What Is The Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, better known as the DMCA, is a copyright law applicable to the online world. Copyright is one area of law that has not translated well to the web.

Digital Revolution

The Internet is revolutionizing many business niches. One needs look no further than real estate. Whereas a listing with MLS was once the dominant marketing strategy, one can now skip it and browse a variety of real estate websites to find listings of interest.


This revolution has not occurred without a good bit of serious controversy. Perhaps the one area that has become the biggest battlefront is copyright. A copyright is the right to control an original fixed expression referred to as a “work.” In the case of the web, the classic example would be a song. The artist that creates that song has the right to copy it as they see fit. If anyone else copies the song without the consent of the artist, they are guilty of copyright infringement.

The web is the ideal forum for free speech. One only has to look at the Arab Spring to realize there is more than a nominal amount of truth to this notion. That being said, the web is also perhaps the biggest forum for copyright infringement in the history of mankind. People think nothing of posting copies of copyrighted materials such as songs, books, art, photos and what have you. Indeed, there have been multimillion-dollar sites such as Napster set up for the express purpose of facilitating such posting!


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act brings order to the chaos surrounding copyright on the web. The DMCA has an endless number of provisions. For most online businesses, the provisions of section 512 are the key. These provisions address how copyright infringement matters are handled online for sites hosting user-generated content. User generated content is material posted by users of the site. For example, videos posted on YouTube represent user-generated content.

The DMCA is set up in a unique way. It is designed to help copyright owners stop the illegal posting of their work and go after those who are doing it. At the same time, it creates safe harbor provisions for sites that allow users to post information so long as certain requirements such as the publication of a DMCA agent met.

DMCA Safe Harbor

These safe harbor provisions protect sites that allow users to post things on them. This “safe harbor” from liability comes at a price, however. The site can be compelled to either take down the offending material or provide all the identifying information the site has for the person who posted the content to the copyright holder.

If you have a site on which you allow individuals to post content, then you must comply with the provisions of the DMCA to avoid liability for copyright infringement. Please contact me to learn more.

Richard A. Chapo, Esq.