Music Copyright in the Digital Age

       A legal, economic, and cultural analysis of music piracy and its implications

U.S. Copyright Law

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to create laws that "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Copyright laws were put in place in encourage and promote creativity, and they are supposed to fulfill this purpose by giving the creator a monopoly on his or her product for a limited amount of time. This ensures the author's livelihood and is expected to spawn more works by giving authors a way to profit from their work. The original Copyright Act gave authors a 14-year period of exclusive control over use of their works. According to the most recent revisions in 1998, authors are now granted life plus 70 years of exclusive control and corporations owning copyright are granted 95 years.[1]

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), Signed into law by President Clinton on October 28, 1998, was enacted to align U.S. copyright law with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties. Here is an overview of the requirements Titles I, II, and IV of the DMCA that affect the music industry:[2]

Title I

Title I requires that preexisting works that have not fallen into the public domain be protected, and requires protection against and prevention of tampering with anti-piracy technology used by content owners to protect digital files of works from being copied

Title II

As mandated by Section 512, copyright owners can obtain a subpoena from a federal court that orders a service provider to disclose the identity of alleged perpetrators of copyright infringement. Service providers are not required to monitor users' activities for copyright infringement, but must cooperate with content owners when complaints are made.

Title IV

Section 112 grants broadcasters the right to make copies of songs in sets or playlists in order to broadcast material from the new recording rather than the original. Section 112 also allows libraries and archives to create digital copies of media that is held on a device that has become obsolete.


  1. Holden, Blythe A, et al. "Copyright and Digital Media in a Post-Napster World." GartnerG2 and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. 01 Nov 2003. PDF
  2. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, U.S. Copyright Office Summary. PDF