June 23, 2004

DMCA Reform Being Considered

A proposed bill (H.R. 107) that would amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. Among other provisions, the DMCA contains language that makes it illegal for consumers to circumvent copyright protection technology on compact discs. The proposed amendment would both require copy-protected discs to be clearly labeled for consumers and would also make it legal to break the locks on copy-protected products for uses that wouldn’t violate copyright law.

As usual, the recording industry, the technology sector, consumer advocates and policy makers are having difficulty finding common ground on this issue, to say the least. But how do the musicians themselves feel about copy-protection technology and circumvention? The Pew Internet Project recently released preliminary findings from an online survey of 2,755 musicians and songwriters that asked these and other important questions.

When it comes to the issue of using copy-protection technology on CDs, it turns out that musicians and songwriters seem to be just as divided as the rest of those engaged in this debate. In our sample, there was a striking split down the middle; while 44% of musicians and songwriters said, if given a choice, they would want their music to be copy-protected so that copies could not be made without their permission, another 44% said they would not want their music to be protected in this way. The remainder, 12%, said they didn’t know.

However, when asked about intentionally breaking or otherwise disabling copy protection mechanisms on purchased CDs or DVDs, the majority of musicians and songwriters do not think that people should be prosecuted for copyright infringement in these cases. 46% said they didn’t think people should be prosecuted, 35% said they should, and 19% said they didn’t know.

Of course, musicians and songwriters aren’t usually the ones writing the laws, but we’re counting on the fact that they’ll keep making music and keep attracting people who want to make a business of promoting and distributing their music, despite all of this legal controversy. In the meantime, here at the Pew Internet Project, we’re working to dig deeper into the rich array of backgrounds, opinions, and diverse experiences represented in this research, trying to understand where artists can do what they do best: shed light on otherwise irreconcilable situations.