Kudos to the Cato Institute for releasing Circumventing Competition: The Perverse Consequences of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by Timothy B. Lee. Tim is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis, the science and technology editor of the online magazine Brainwash and a contributor to the Technology Liberation Front website. You may have seen his recent New York Times op-ed on the upside of “piggybacking” on open WiFi networks.
This engaging paper discusses what many of us on the frontlines of copyright reform advocacy have been saying since the DMCA was passed in 1998: the law limits fair use and competition, and while it does not stop real copyright thieves, it does inconvenience legitimate users. Prior to the passage of the DMCA, Lee writes, the courts were developing a body of law that balanced the rights of the public, innovators and copyright holders. But the DMCA has thrown that balance out of whack, permitting copyright holders to control the design of digital devices and what Lee calls the “media viewing experience.” Lee also discusses the unintended consequences of the DMCA, like suits against printer cartridge and garage door opener manufactures and actions against legitimate researchers like Ed Felten, who dared publish his research on DRM.
What is perhaps the most significant about Mr. Lee's piece is that it is the first time that a right of center think tank has published a paper criticizing the DMCA. I have been repeatedly frustrated by so-called free market think tanks' unwillingness to be critical of government technology mandates like the broadcast flag and its progeny. How can any organization that professes to be for limited government remain silent when government interferes with a thriving marketplace? Tim Lee and the Cato Institute are a breath of fresh air.