How Copyright Became Controversial
How did copyright become controversial? In a phrase, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Although many of the legal controversies that have swirled since its October 1998 passage trace their roots to other elements of copyright law, the DMCA created a new feature in copyright law that has crystallized why so many academics, librarians, computer users, and technology entrepreneurs object to what they regard as the overreaching nature of copyright law. That signal feature is the ban on the cracking of encryption codes used by content owners to restrict access to digital works on which they hold copyrights.
Now encoded in Section 1201 of the Copyright Act, the statute reads: “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title” (17 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1)(A)). The definitions of those terms are broad enough to bar almost all unauthorized decryption of content. Subsequent language in the section also prohibits the manufacture, release, or sale of products, services, and devices that can crack encryption designed to thwart either access to or copying of material unauthorized by the copyright holder.
In other words, for the first time in history, it isn't the copyright violation that is the crime. It is the creation of the technological tools to violate copyright that has become the crime.
The law germinated from a 1995 white paper drafted by Bruce Lehman, the first patent office chief and intellectual property guru in the Clinton administration. Heavily supported by copyright holders, the key rationale behind the white paper was that content owners would be unwilling to put their content in digital form were it not for new laws against those who defeat the digital locks they place on their products. The anti-circumvention concept gained momentum in 1996 when it was endorsed in a World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty. It was subsequently adopted as