Columbia Public Law & Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



The ongoing transposition of the EU Information Society Directive’s requirement that member States adopt of legal prohibitions of the circumvention of technological protections of works of authorship occasions this review of international obligations and their implementation in the US. This article addresses the scope of international obligations the WIPO Copyright Treaties impose on member States to protect against circumvention, as well as the US experience with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibitions on circumvention of access and copy controls. It examines the text of the statute, codified at sec. 1201 of the 1976 Copyright Act, the five years of judicial decisions interpreting the statute, and the two administrative proceedings implementing one aspect of the statutory scheme. The analysis of the DMCA and its judicial and administrative interpretation will take up three issues:

1) What technological measures does sec. 1201 protect? 2) What conduct does sec. 1201 prohibit? 3) To what extent does sec. 1201 accommodate copyright exceptions?

The US experience to date indicates that legal protection for technological measures has helped foster new business models that make works available to the public at a variety of price points and enjoyment options, without engendering the “digital lockup” and other copyright owner abuses that many had feared. This is not to say that the US legislation and its judicial interpretation represent the most preferable means to making the internet a hospitable place for authors while continuing to enable lawful user conduct. But brooding forecasts and legitimate continuing concerns notwithstanding, the overall equilibrium so far appears to be a reasonable one.

Date of Authorship for this Version

August 2005