DMCA Poised for Facelift

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON – A House of Representatives subcommittee met Wednesday to review aspects of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into most commercial software. The DMCA also outlaws the manufacture, sale, or distribution of code-cracking devices used to illegally copy software.

The DMCA has been used in numerous lawsuits defending copyright protection, particularly in cases filed by the Motion Picture Association of America and software companies against alleged content pirates, although the DMCA has also been heavily criticized for being an outdated law that was written long before the advent of leading-edge technologies.

Consumer advocates have long asked Congress to revisit the DMCA for proposed amendments that would bring it into alignment with consumer rights and enable the owners of certain devices to make personal copies of DVD movies and other digital content for their own personal use.

The DMCA amendment currently under review is titled the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act and is sponsored by Rick Boucher (D-Va), and John Doolittle (R-Calif.). The DMCRA would allow consumers to circumvent encryption technology for the sake of their own fair use.

Bucher and Doolittle are proposing to fellow lawmakers that under current law, consumers are less likely to invest lawfully in digital media because of its limitations. A change in law could mean that software created for the explicit purpose of circumventing copyright protection, like DeCSS and DVD rippers, could potentially become legalized.

The two senators also contend that the enactment of the 1998 DMCA was a grave oversight on the part of Congress in terms of creating an imbalance in copyright law and that their bill hopes to "redress those wrongs," said Doolittle.

However, Hollywood studios and record executives believe firmly that allowing people to make copies of content legally would only open the floodgates to increased amounts of piracy. The MPAA estimates that the U.S. motion picture industry loses an estimated $3 billion annually in potential worldwide revenue due to piracy.

Jack Valenti, the head of the MPAA is bitterly opposed to the idea of amending the DMCA and is calling on Congress to avoid making a decision that could potentially legalize piracy.

"It allows you to make a copy or many copies," Valenti said in a statement. "And the 1,000th copy of a DVD, Mr. Chairman, is as pure and pristine as the original. You strip away all the protective clothing of that DVD and leave it naked and alone."

The DMCRA is currently stalled on the House floor and is not expected to make notable progress until sometime in 2005.