Demystifying the DMCA


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act – DMCA for short – is a US copyright law designed to protect intellectual property and copyrighted content. It gives users an easy means of protecting their content, but has been criticised due to the ease with which people can misuse it for their own benefit. This is of particular interest to WordPress users, since WP’s parent company, Automattic, recently took a stand against DMCA misuse via legal action.

What is the DMCA?

Essentially, DMCA increases the penalties for copyright infringement online, and criminalises the production and dissemination of technology intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyright works.

The intention of the DMCA is to protect the interests of users, and it is invoked hundreds of thousands of times every day to remove online content copyright owners believe infringes on their property. While there are plenty of legitimate claims, the issue with the act is that many people are using it as a vehicle for censorship.

What’s the problem?

The problem with the DMCA is that it offers opportunities for unquestioned censorship.

The ‘safe harbour’ portion of the act means companies that host content, such as YouTube and Facebook, aren’t responsible for what users upload. Without this, copyright holders could sue YouTube every time someone uploaded video of their baby nodding along to the latest pop single. Sites that host content therefore only have a responsibilities to remove content, without question, as soon as they’re asked to, and to have a policy in place to deal with repeat offenders. Not doing so means they risk losing their safe harbour status.

Essentially, this means copyright takedowns are shoot first and ask questions later, and therein lies the issue. The problem is obvious when you consider NASA’s own Mars Curiosity landing footage was apparently removed from YouTube due a false copyright infringement allegation by a news network.

Automattic takes a stand

DMCA misuse and abuse is common, but service providers and content hosts have been reluctant to challenge that abuse… until recently.

WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, recently took a stand against censorship, joining two WordPress users in filing lawsuits against misusers under Section 512(f) of the DMCA, which allows users to hold people accountable when they make false infringement accusations.

This post via Electronic Frontier Foundation outlines two recent examples of DMCA abuse, and notes that the issue with the DMCA is that “it creates a world where allegations of infringement are a fast track to censorship, usually with few real consequences for anyone but the user”.

Concerned about copyright infringement?

We’ve written at length about DMCA protection and if you’re concerned about protecting the intellectual property and content on your website or blog, the DMCA Protection plugin for WordPress lets you install protection badges on your site in order to deter content thieves and protect your content.

Nikki is a professional freelance writer and story teller with a passion for the web and technology. She writes for WP Dev Shed and amongst a roster of other clients.

2 thoughts on “Demystifying the DMCA

  1. Rachel says:

    Hi, I love the image on this blog – would it be ok to use on the website I’m setting up providing IP information in New Zealand?

    1. Charles says:

      Hi Rachel, we purchased a license to use this image from so you would need to do the same. Hope that helps.

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