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The Copyright Act a Decade Later

In 1998, Congress anticipated the information revolution and took steps to ensure that the potential of the transformative technologies that we now use every day would be realized.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of critical legislation—the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA—that played a crucial role in making this revolution possible.

In 1998, few people ever dreamed of a car with a digital screen that would show movies in vivid colors; ubiquitous wireless access to the Internet was a hope, not a reality; and an iPod sounded more like a prop from Invasion of the Body Snatchers than a game-changing, must-have gadget.

Technological innovation combined with innovative business models have blossomed and brought choices to consumers that could not have been imagined when Congress contemplated the changes that would be wrought in a digital world.

At its core, the DCMA enables copyright owners to protect their works against theft. The DMCA recognizes that thriving networks and network-based dissemination of information, whether movies or software, need two things: trust and rewards for good actors.

The DMCA establishes trust by empowering authors of books, movies, music, software and games to use technology tools to protect their content from being stolen. And it creates incentives for online service providers and distributors to cooperate in the fight against piracy.

Congress's foresight a decade ago helped to usher in the digital age. It encouraged copyright owners to take a risk and make their works available to consumers in the then-emerging digital environment.

Without the assurances written into the law, copyright holders would have been more than hesitant to distribute their content in digital form, and to cut the deals with the electronics industry that have allowed the decade's explosion in the portability that is so desired by an increasingly mobile society.

Over the past decade we have seen an explosion in the use of the Internet and innovative technologies. These include smartphones, iPods, Xbox and PlayStation, Hulu and Facebook, and dozens of sites where users are empowered to explore and show off their creative energies.

The DMCA has been a stunning success, providing consumers with an amazing abundance of choices as to when, where and how they access entertainment content like movies and information over the Internet.

Technology companies, as well as movie studios and other content providers, have prospered under the DMCA's balanced design, which encourages wider dissemination of copyrighted works without discouraging or compromising technological innovation. Most importantly, consumers have reaped enormous benefits from the technology and creative works made available to them in the DMCA environment.

On this 10th anniversary of the enactment of the DMCA, we should pause to recognize how this legislation has helped American technology companies, producers of creative works and, most importantly, consumers.