WASHINGTON--There's still a lot of hatred out there for a controversial law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but don't count the U.S. Copyright Office chief in that camp.
"I'm a supporter; I think it did what it was supposed to do," Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters said of the 1998 law at an appearance at the Future of Music Policy Summit here. "No law is ever perfect, but I remain a supporter."
The DMCA, among other things, dictates that "No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device (or) component" that is primarily designed to bypass copy-protection technology. For that reason, it has long been unpopular among some hackers, programmers and open-source devotees--not to mention consumer groups that believe it unduly inhibits fair use rights.
"I'm not ready to dump the anticircumvention," Peters said in response to a question from an audience member who suggested as much. "I think that's a really important part of our copyright owners' quiver of arrows to defend themselves."
The law also requires that the Copyright Office meets periodically to decide whether it's necessary to specify narrow exemptions to the so-called anticircumvention rules. (Last year, the government decided it's lawful to unlock a cell phone's firmware for the purpose of switching carriers and to crack copy protection on audiovisual works to test for security flaws or vulnerabilities.)
Peters told summit attendees that at first she thought it was "stupid" to put the Copyright Office in the position of deciding whether certain locked content was problematic, but she eventually came around.
"It does bring attention to certain activities that maybe aren't so great," said the self-proclaimed "Luddite," who confessed she doesn't even have a computer at home. "In hindsight, maybe that's not such a bad thing."
Peters indicated she was less thrilled, however, about a portion of the DMCA that generally lets hosting companies off the hook for legal liability, as long as they don't turn a blind eye to copyright infringement and remove infringing material when notified. That's one of the major arguments Google is attempting to wield in fighting high-profile copyright lawsuits, including one brought by Viacom, against its YouTube subsidiary.
"Shouldn't you have to filter? Shouldn't you have to take reasonable steps to make sure illegal stuff that went up comes down?" she said. She added, without elaborating further, "I think there are some issues."