Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998: a U.S. federal law that many large software firms strongly backed. Among the DMCA's provisions is a major transformation in copyright law, one amounting to, in effect, a monstrous and constitutionally unsupportable denial of due process. In brief, the DMCA enables any person who purports to be the owner of copyrighted material to demand its removal from the Internet, without having to go to a judge to obtain an injunction. All that is necessary is a formal notification demanding that the ISP remove the offending page. The Act also states that, if the ISP fails to remove the page, the ISP then automatically becomes a co-infringer. The Act further spells out that, should the accused infringer believe the material is not subject to the claimed copyright, the infringer can put it back on the site after a 15-day hiatus--which is, of course, tantamount to an invitation to a lawsuit.

What's so bad about the DMCA? For starters, it constitutes a wholesale reversal of fundamental tenets of due process in U.S. law. Before the DMCA, copyright holders had to go to a judge to obtain an injunction before they could force the removal or suppression of copyrighted material. With the DMCA, that's no longer necessary. All it takes is a certified letter to an ISP, which is then faced with the following choice: either remove the material, or you become a co-infringer. Under such circumstances, ISPs will of course remove the material, even if they believe it does not infringe on anyone's copyright; who would want to take such a risk? In short, the DMCA represents a radical, subversive and unconstitutional denial of the most fundamental provision of U.S. jurisprudence, a tradition dating all the way back to the Magna Carta: that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

During the Congressional debate prior to the DMCA's passage, a host of civil libertarians, legal scholars, librarians and free-speech advocates warned their money-besotted "representatives" that the proposed legislation would quickly become a weapon against the expression of views which corporations found displeasing.