A Holistic Approach to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

By: Ryan Mitchell

Abstract: This article takes a multi-pronged approach to a single problem: reconciling the watershed Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with copyright proper. In the past decade or so, litigants and courts have sought to define just what sort of rights the DMCA creates. Plaintiffs have emphasized technical interpretations of the statute where it purported to create a cause of action and brought suits to vindicate interests that often had little to do with their copyrighted works; on the other hand, defendants have sought to shield themselves with standard copyright defenses such as fair use and ignore the reality that the DMCA makes illicit different conduct and creates new rights for the copyright holder. There is a middle-ground between creation of a “supercopyright” on one side, and a superfluous statute on the other. That said, I advocate an approach utilizing statutory interpretation and a judicial rule of reason to focus on whether a plaintiff is seeking to protect the value of their copyrighted work, or is merely using the copyrighted work as a necessary technicality in a DMCA claim to enforce some other non-copyright interest. In addition, other judicial doctrines, including standing and copyright misuse have a role to play in weeding out DMCA claims premised on hypothetical injuries and oppressive uses of the copyright grant respectively. Given the increasing importance of consumer electronics and digital information in our world, a multitude of approaches is appropriate to carry out Congress’s intention that the careful balance in our copyright law continues in the digital age.

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