“Congress enacted the DMCA in 1998 to comply with international copyright treaties and to update domestic copyright law for the online world.” Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 2004). In large part, the DMCA was intended to give copyright owners additional means to protect copyrighted materials in the digital age. Although copyright owners often attempted to protect digitized materials behind digital passwords or encryption codes, “[p]rior to the DMCA, a copyright owner would have had no cause of action against anyone who circumvented any sort of technological control, but did not infringe [the copyright].” Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Skylink Technologies, Inc., 381 F.3d 1178, 1195–96 (Fed. Cir. 2004). Due to the ease of digital piracy, copyright owners feared that the ability to pursue only infringers, rather than those who “picked the lock” and enabled the infringement to occur in the first place, was inadequate to protect their copyrighted material. See Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429, 435 (2d Cir. 2001).
In response to this problem, the DMCA gave copyright owners a remedy against those who did not themselves infringe a copyright but instead circumvented technological controls and thereby enabled others to infringe. It did so by creating both “circumvention liability for digital trespass under [17 U.S.C.] § 1201(a)(1),” and “trafficking liability under [17 U.S.C.] § 1201(a)(2) for facilitating such circumvention.” Chamberlain Group, 381 F.3d at 1196. Thus, the DMCA “targets the circumvention of digital walls guarding copyrighted material (and trafficking in circumvention tools),” even though it “does not concern itself with the use of those materials after circumvention has occurred.” Corley, 273 F.3d at 443; see also MGE UPS Sys., Inc. v. GE Consumer & Indus., Inc., 622 F.3d 361, 366 (5th Cir. 2010). Circumventing or trafficking in circumvention tools in violation of § 1201 is a criminal offense if it is committed “willfully” and for commercial or private financial gain. 17 U.S.C. § 1204(a).
Judge(s): Richard Griffin
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit
Related Categories: Constitutional Law , Criminal Justice
|Circuit Court Judge(s)|
|Trial Court Judge(s)|
|Appellant Lawyer(s)||Appellant Law Firm(s)|
|Darin Thompson||Office of the Federal Public Defender|
|Appellee Lawyer(s)||Appellee Law Firm(s)|
|Robert Kern||U.S. Department of Justice|
|Chelsea Rice||U.S. Department of Justice|