A Lunch BIT from The Digital Rights Movement by Hector Postigo

What began as an assertion of consumer rights to digital content has become something broader: a movement concerned not just with consumers and gadgets but with cultural ownership. In this excerpt from Origins of the Digital Rights Movement: The White Paper and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: A BIT of The Digital Rights Movement, Hector Postigo examines the evolution of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, showing that citizens’ concerns were largely ignored in the policy process.

A comparison of the initial recommendations in the WGIP’s Green Paper to the final recommendations in what came to be called the “White Paper” and ultimately the DMCA suggests some important outcomes from the policymaking processes for the DMCA. First, it shows the emergence of a number of visions of what the NII would become. During the comment period prior to the release of the White Paper, a number of citizens voiced concern over the possible excess of the proposed policy and suggested that the NII might be a place where copyright and intellectual property can be reimagined rather than reenforced. Second, such a review, specifically of the White Paper’s final policy recommendations and the DMCA’s most resisted provisions (the anticircumvention provisions), finds that, by and large, citizen concerns and imaginings were ignored. This lack of notice prompted initial resistance to the law and served as a sort of spark to the digital rights movement, giving early leaders a foil against which they might rally supporters. Last and perhaps not surprisingly, the comparison suggests that the policymaking process’s approach to evaluating copyright policy favored the status quo argued for in the rhetoric of preserving the “balance of copyright.” I ultimately ask whether technological changes alongside changes in consumer/user practices should not be the impetus to reevaluate the status quo, changing it to facilitate participation rather than to preserve or buttress restrictive copyrights.