The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998 after strenuous lobbying by Hollywood studios, record labels and other intellectual property holders. They argued that new copyright protections were necessary to prevent the Internet from becoming a forum for rampant piracy. It was reasonably obvious at the time that it was a bad law, but the effects have been even worse than feared.

When last seen, the DMCA was being invoked to stop a web site from printing lists of prices advertised by major chain stores. (See my news item on November 21.) Two days ago, Lexmark sued a competitor, using the DMCA to support its allegation that the competitor must be prevented from selling replacement toner cartridges. It’s outrageous to think that we passed a law that can be used solely to stifle competition, but nobody seems to think that Lexmark is being frivolous or misreading the law.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation just released a report that convincingly demonstrates that the law has proven to be overly aggressive and chilling. The EFF said the DMCA has had a threefold effect: chilling free expression and scientific research; jeopardizing fair use; and impeding competition. According to the study, “In practice, the anti-circumvention provisions have been used to stifle a wide array of legitimate activities, rather than to stop copyright piracy.”

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