If You Love The Internet,
You Should Thank The DMCA
If you’ve been following the current conversation about the state of our country’s copyright system, you might be led to believe there is a brewing battle between the internet and some in the creative industry.
And while a few players are pushing a divisive narrative and attacking the laws that form the economic foundation of the internet, the reality is that we are all in this together. Both sides must work to make the copyright system a success.
Even in 1998, Congress understood the power of this symbiosis: the success of the internet and creators are intertwined. They knew a balanced system would grow the internet and protect rightsholders’ ability to thrive online.
Fortunately, Congress got it right with the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It was carefully written with the direct goal of enabling future technological innovation and allowing today’s internet companies to emerge.
At its most basic level, the DMCA allows rightsholders to identify infringing content and requires platforms to take down that content in a responsive manner. The bargain is simple: rightsholders have a mechanism to address infringement without engaging in a lengthy and expensive legal battle, and internet platforms that respond quickly to remove infringing content are held harmless for the actions of their users.
The law is working: The internet sector is now a global driver of the economy, reaching nearly $1 trillion — or 6 percent — of our GDP in 2014 alone. An era of previously unimagined cultural diversity is available globally at the touch of a finger. But the internet is not the only beneficiary of this arrangement.
The law is working for creators, too: piracy and infringement are down, and entertainment industries are in an era of historic success fueled by the internet.
In the U.S., the growth of the internet as a whole, and the growth of users connected to the internet, surpasses the growth of infringing activity on a percentage basis. In addition, the DMCA has ensured that legal platforms can scale: studies indicate that the introduction of lawful online video and music platforms is typically followed by reductions in online infringement by 50 percent and 80 percent, respectively.
The growth of legal content consumption has driven the entertainment industry to grow from $449 billion in 1998 to $745 billion just twelve years after the DMCA was enacted. Lower barriers to entry are available for millions of small and independent businesses and artists to access worldwide markets.
The internet has not threatened the entertainment industry’s survival; it has enhanced its growth and fueled new forms of expression.
Despite the DMCA’s resounding success, there is a call by some to unwind the balance struck in the law and hold internet companies liable for policing every single piece of online content.
Congress gave rightsholders the job of identifying content for a reason: they are the only ones who can. Platforms don’t have access to constantly changing licensing information, nor are they the appropriate party to make legal judgments about whether content qualifies as fair use, a critical flexibility in copyright law that allows users legal access to content and encourages new forms of follow-on creativity. Instead, internet platforms would be responsible for the expeditious removal of infringing content and establishing policies to make sure rightsholders were valuable partners.
The assumption was that because the success of this paradigm would be mutually beneficial, both sides would do their best to contribute to the copyright enforcement process.
Perhaps the best example of the internet industry’s commitment to holding up our end of the bargain is the plethora of voluntary “DMCA-plus” programs in use today. Because the DMCA provides internet companies with a floor, not a ceiling, of action, platforms are encouraged to experiment with voluntary mechanisms. These “DMCA-plus” programs are often tailored to the unique scale and functions of a platform, and are dynamic processes that are reviewed and improved upon frequently, providing greater flexibility and effectiveness for rightsholders. Programs like ContentID on YouTube (which is used for 98 percent of rights management on YouTube), the “no-PIN” option on Pinterest, and Rights Manager on Facebook are all examples of how companies are using their individual experiences to work with creators.
Rather than spending their time lobbying Congress for wholesale legislative rewrites, our hope is all sides can come together and focus efforts on doing everything possible to improve the system.
The internet industry is leading by example and demonstrating our commitment to what should be a shared goal. Join us.