This essay discusses privacy issues inherent in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act
Some of the more pressing issues in the online world are the legal and ethical considerations concerning copyright infringement, specifically with smaller forms of media such as music, books, and images. Several laws have been passed to allow companies to more easily combat piracy in the digital age, most notably the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. The DMCA afforded copyright holders some specific new rights in their attempts to limit the piracy of their works, and since being passed into law, has been used numerous times to this effect.
However, certain portions of the DMCA have been challenged in courts as unconstitutional on various grounds -- one of these being that it allows copyright holders to unfairly invade the privacy of Internet users who are suspected of violating copyright laws. A portion of the DMCA allows the person/company that feels their copyright has been infringed to file a subpoena on their own for information about the person suspected of copyright infringement without going before a court to obtain a judge's order. This means that, based simply on suspicion and without any evidence, a copyright holder may at any time file a subpoena to obtain information about you from an Internet company or other public computer network.
As an example, we'll assume that while browsing a college network, a musician finds a copy of his latest song on a server hosted by the college. The musician (or his representative) contacts the university about the server and finds out the server is personally owned by a student with the screen name "collegegrad". At this point, the musician's representative can file a subpoena to demand that the university release the name, address, and phone number of the person whose screen name this is, even though no wrongdoing has been proven. The copy of the song found may not even be available for download; it may be a private copy covered under fair use provisions of copyright law. However, even if "collegegrad" is innocent of any wrongdoing, the university in question may still be legally obligated to divulge personal information about the user.
Such practices have been challenged in court, but the issues are far from being resolved -- for more information, please see the following links:
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