Understanding Your Rights and Obligations Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

A lot of how copyrights are protected on the internet is still controlled by a law that is now nearly a quarter-century old. Yes, technology has evolved at an increasing rate since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998 to align the U.S. with international copyright law and there are legitimate questions about whether the DMCA has kept up. But it remains the law. So, what does this mean for Minneapolis creatives? Here is a brief overview of some of your rights and responsibilities under the DMCA.

An Overview of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The DMCA has five sections, but most of them are unlikely to affect most people (unless you are concerned about copyrighting your boat hull design, which is what Title V deals with).

The first two sections of the DMCA probably have the broadest impact. Title I amended U.S. copyright laws to conform to international treaties. But it also set restrictions on technology that can bypass any measures intended to protect copyrighted digital works. Remember Napster? Maybe not, because Title I of the DMCA made the technology Napster users could employ to download songs without artist permission illegal. Title II puts forth certain criteria protecting qualifying online service providers from being held liable in copyright infringement suits. This is the section of the law that is at work when an artist or media company issues a DMCA takedown demand.

Protecting You From Copyright Infringement

The internet is great. And terrible. It offers a flood of content at our whim. But it also makes copying and copyright infringement almost stupidly easy. If you find someone is infringing on your copyrights online, the DMCA offers a way to ask the online service provider to take down the infringing post. That is the “DMCA takedown order” you probably have heard about. The DMCA takedown rules are not without their problems (see below), but used properly they provide a quick way to limit the damage caused by someone copying your creative works. You may also have the right to pursue an infringement lawsuit in court, and if you win you could recover the actual damages caused by the infringement or statutory damages (which could be anywhere between $200 and $150,000 for each copyrighted work). While that lawsuit is working its way through the courts, though, the DMCA takedown order can prevent ongoing infringement of your copyrights. All of this can get complicated, so if you suspect that someone is trying to capitalize on your idea without your consent, contact an IP attorney right away to discuss your options.

How Sections of the DMCA Could be Used Against You

While the DMCA typically affords copyright owners legal protection against infringement, there are times when certain sections may be twisted and used against you. Some larger corporations have been accused of using the DMCA to try to smother all competitors, even smaller companies or innovators whose ideas have little to do with the copyrighted material. Members of the public have also accused companies like Apple of using the DMCA to stifle user forums where Apple customers shared ideas about how to unlock their phones or share music between Apple devices without using iTunes. If you’ve received notification of a DMCA violation that you think is baseless, or if the infringement was innocent and unintentional, you should contact an IP lawyer to understand what steps to take.


Copyright laws can be complex and difficult to understand, especially as technology continues to advance much faster than legislation. If you have questions about a copyright or IP issue in Minneapolis or St. Paul, call Rubric Legal LLC today at (612) 465-0074 to get started.

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