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What Is The Difference Between The Digital Millennium Copyright Act Of 1998 And The Copyright Act Of 1976?

by | Jan 6, 2023 | Art Law, Copyright Law, Music Law, Photography Law |

With the ever-increasing importance of digital media, many photographers, authors, musicians, artists, and content creators are becoming more and more interested in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  These creators are seeking protection for their works through the DMCA.  However, what many creators fail to realize is that the standard protections found in the Copyright Act of 1978 are often more than sufficient to protect these creators.

The Copyright Act of 1976 protects against the actual infringement (or illegally copying and, or, using) of a copyright.  The right to control the reproduction (and thus prevent copying) of a work is one of the “exclusive rights” of the copyright holder.  (17 U.S.C. §501).  Therefore, when you sue someone for infringing upon your exclusive rights (illegally copying your work), you are suing under the Copyright Act of 1976.

So how does the Digital Millennium Copyright Act relate to the above?

The Copyright Act of 1976 was enacted before the internet age.  With the introduction of the internet, people acquired the ability to illegally copy and infringe upon the copyright holder’s exclusive rights at a scale that had arguably never been seen before.

In response, copyright holders used protective technologies (often computer programs) to protect their “exclusive rights”.  In order to track a copyright holder’s works, these technologies used “copyright management information” that was often embedded in the digital file of the works.

The DMCA was passed to make it illegal to sell and use technologies that circumvents a copyright holder’s protective technologies.  (17 U.S.C. §1201).  The DMCA also made it illegal to falsify, remove, or alter “copyright management information” that may be used by a copyright holder’s protective technologies to track their works.  (17 U.S.C. §1202).

Therefore, the Copyright Act of 1976 is still the law that protects a copyright holder’s “exclusive rights”, whereas, the DMCA is the law that protects certain technologies and digital information that is used by a copyright holder to protect their “exclusive rights”.

These blogposts shall not be constituted as legal advice and are for informational purposes only.  Each and every case is different and requires an attorney to examine the specific case in question to arrive at an adequate legal conclusion.  In addition, these blogposts are not updated, or edited, after the date of their initial post, and as such, the information contained within them may be outdated.  Finally, the above blogpost discusses the law as interpreted within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit.  Various federal circuits may have differing interpretations of the law.  Consult with your own personal attorney for more information on the subject matters.