Wendy Seltzer on the DMCA’s Effects on Free Speech

Under the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Act (), Internet service providers are encouraged to respond to copyright complaints with content takedowns, assuring their immunity from liability while diminishing the rights of their subscribers and users. … Under the , process for an accused infringer is limited. … If this takedown procedure took place through the courts, it would trigger First Amendment scrutiny as a , silencing speech before an adjudication of lawfulness. Because takedowns are privately administered through ISPs, however, they have not received such constitutional scrutiny, despite their high risk of error. …

This Article argues for greater constitutional scrutiny. The public is harmed by the loss of speech via indirect chilling effect no less than if the government had wrongly ordered removal of lawful postings directly. Indeed, because DMCA takedown costs less to copyright claimants than a federal complaint and exposes claimants to few risks, it invites more frequent abuse or error than standard copyright law. I describe several of the error cases in detail. The indirect nature of the chill on speech should not shield the legal regime from challenge.

See Wendy Seltzer “Free Speech Unmoored in Copyright’s Safe Harbor: Chilling Effects of the DMCA on the First Amendment” 24 (1) Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 172 (2010) (pdf).

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