2001 Executive Summary Digital Millennium Copyright Act Section 104 Report (Edited and Adapted by RAL for Ed Use)

2001 Executive Summary: Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Section 104 Report

edited and adapted: RAL 2019


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) was the foundation of an effort by Congress to implement United States treaty obligations and to move the nation’s copyright law into the digital age. But as Congress recognized, the only thing that remains constant is change. The enactment of the DMCA was only the beginning of an ongoing evaluation by Congress on the relationship between technological change and U.S. copyright law.



The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties were the impetus for the U.S. legislation. In order to facilitate the development of electronic commerce in the digital age, Congress implemented the WIPO treaties by enacting legislation to address those treaty obligations that were not adequately addressed under existing U.S. law. Legal prohibitions against circumvention of technological protection measures employed by copyright owners to protect their works, and against the removal or alteration of copyright management information, were required in order to implement U.S. treaty obligations.

The congressional determination to promote electronic commerce and the distribution of digital works by providing copyright owners with legal tools to prevent widespread piracy was tempered with concern for maintaining the integrity of the statutory limitations on the exclusive rights of copyright owners.


The common-law roots of the first sale doctrine allowed the owner of a particular copy of a work to dispose of that copy. This judicial doctrine was grounded in the common-law principle that restraints on the alienation of tangible property are to be avoided in the absence of clear congressional intent to abrogate this principle. This doctrine appears in section 109 of the Copyright Act of 1976. Section 109(a) specified that this notwithstanding a copyright owner’s exclusive distribution right under section 106 the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord that was lawfully made under title 17 is entitled to sell or further dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.


Section 117 of the Copyright Act of 1976 permits the owner of a copy of a computer program to make an additional copy of the program for purely archival purposes if all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful, or where the making of such a copy is an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner.


There is no dispute that section 109 applies to works in digital form. Physical copies of works in a digital format, such as CDs or DVDs, are subject to section 109 in the same way as physical copies in analog form. Similarly, a lawfully made tangible copy of a digitally downloaded work, such as a work downloaded to a floppy disk, Zip� disk, or CD-RW, is clearly subject to section 109. The question we address here is whether the transmission of a work to another person falls within – or should fall within – the scope of section 109.

1. The First Sale Doctrine in the Digital World

a. Evaluation of Arguments Concerning First Sale

The first sale doctrine is primarily a limitation on the copyright owner’s exclusive right of distribution. It does not limit the exclusive right of reproduction. While disposition of a work downloaded to a floppy disk would only implicate the distribution right, the transmission of a work from one person to another over the Internet results in a reproduction on the recipient’s computer, even if the sender subsequently deletes the original copy of the work. This activity therefore entails an exercise of an exclusive right that is not covered by section 109.

Proponents of expansion of the scope of section 109 to include the transmission and deletion of a digital file argue that this activity is essentially identical to the transfer of a physical copy and that the similarities outweigh the differences. While it is true that there are similarities, we find the analogy to the physical world to be flawed and unconvincing.

Physical copies degrade with time and use; digital information does not. Works in digital format can be reproduced flawlessly, and disseminated to nearly any point on the globe instantly and at negligible cost. Digital transmissions can adversely effect the market for the original to a much greater degree than transfers of physical copies. Additionally, unless a “forward-and delete” technology is employed to automatically delete the sender’s copy, the deletion of a work requires an additional affirmative act on the part of the sender subsequent to the transmission. This act is difficult to prove or disprove, as is a person’s claim to have transmitted only a single copy, thereby raising complex evidentiary concerns. There were conflicting views on whether effective forward and delete technologies exist today. Even if they do, it is not clear that the market will bear the cost of an expensive technological measure.

The underlying policy of the first sale doctrine as adopted by the courts was to give effect to the common law rule against restraints on the alienation of tangible property. The tangible nature of a copy is a defining element of the first sale doctrine and critical to its rationale. The digital transmission of a work does not implicate the alienability of a physical artifact. When a work is transmitted, the sender is exercising control over the intangible work through its reproduction rather than common law dominion over an item of tangible personal property. Unlike the physical distribution of digital works on a tangible medium, such as a floppy disk, the transmission of works interferes with the copyright owner’s control over the intangible work and the exclusive right of reproduction. The benefits to further expansion simply do not outweigh the likelihood of increased harm.

The fact that we do not recommend adopting a “digital first sale” provision at this time does not mean that the issues raised by libraries are not potentially valid concerns. Similarly, our conclusion that certain issues are beyond the scope of the present study does not reflect our judgment on the merits of those issues.

The library community has raised concerns about how the current marketing of works in digital form affects libraries with regard to five specifically enumerated categories: interlibrary loans, off-site accessibility, archiving/preservation, availability of works, and use of donated copies. Most of these issues arise from terms and conditions of use, and costs of license agreements. One arises because, when the library has only online access to the work, it lacks a physical copy of the copyrighted work that can be transferred. These issues arise from existing business models and are therefore subject to market forces. We are in the early stages of electronic commerce. We hope and expect that the marketplace will respond to the various concerns of customers in the library community. However, these issues may require further consideration at some point in the future. Libraries serve a vital function in society, and we will continue to work with the library and publishing communities on ways to ensure the continuation of library functions that are critical to our national interest.

2. The Legal Status of Temporary Copies

a. RAM Reproductions as “Copies” under the Copyright Act

All of the familiar activities that one performs on a computer, from the execution of a computer program to browsing the World Wide Web, necessarily involve copies stored in integrated circuits known as RAM. This information can remain in memory until the power is switched off or the information is overwritten. These reproductions generally persist only for as long as the particular activity takes place.

The legal status of RAM reproductions has arisen in this study almost exclusively in the context of streaming audio delivery, including webcasting. In order to render the packets of audio information in an audio “stream” smoothly, in spite of inconsistencies in the rate of delivery, packets of audio information are saved in a portion of RAM called a buffer until they are ready to be rendered.

Based on an the text of the Copyright Act – including the definition of “copies” in section 101 – and its legislative history, we conclude that the making of temporary copies of a work in RAM implicates the reproduction right so long as the reproduction persists long enough to be perceived, copied, or communicated.

Every court that has addressed the issue of reproductions in RAM has expressly or impliedly found such reproductions to be copies within the scope of the reproduction right. The seminal case on this subject, MAI, Sys. Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., found that the loading of copyrighted software into RAM creates a “copy” of that software. At least nine other courts have followed MAI v. Peak in holding RAM reproductions to be “copies” and several other cases have held that loading a computer program into a computer entails making a copy, without mentioning RAM specifically.

b. Evaluation of Arguments Concerning Temporary Incidental Copy Exceptions

We believe that there is a strong case that the making of a buffer copy in the course of streaming is a fair use. Fair use is a defense that may limit any of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, including the reproduction right implicated in temporary copies.

In examining the first factor – the purpose and character of the use – it appears that the making of buffer copies is commercial and not transformative. However, the use does not supersede or supplant the market for the original works. Buffer copies are a means to a noninfringing and socially beneficial end – the licensed performance of these works. There is no commercial exploitation intended or made of the buffer copy in itself. The first factor weighs in favor of fair use.

[2nd and 3rd factors omitted by ed.]

In analyzing the fourth factor – the effect of the use on the actual or potential market for the work – the effect appears to be minimal or nonexistent. This factor strongly weighs in favor of fair use.

Two of the four statutory factors weigh in favor of fair use, but fair use is also an “equitable rule of reason.” In the case of temporary buffer copies, we believe that the equities unquestionably favor the user. The sole purpose for making the buffer copies is to permit an activity that is licensed by the copyright owner and for which the copyright owner receives a performance royalty. In essence, copyright owners appear to be seeking to be paid twice for the same activity. Additionally, it is technologically necessary to make buffer copies in order to carry out a digital performance of music over the Internet. Finally, the buffer copies exist for too short a period of time to be exploited in any way other than as a narrowly tailored means to enable the authorized performance of the work. On balance, therefore, the equities weigh heavily in favor of fair use.

c. Recommendation Concerning Temporary Incidental Copies

The economic value of licensed streaming is in the public performances of the musical work and the sound recording, both of which are paid for. The buffer copies have no independent economic significance. They are made solely to enable the performance of these works.

3. Archival Exemption

a. Evaluation of Arguments Concerning the Scope of Section 117(a)(2)

Currently the archival exemption under section 117(a)(2) is limited to computer programs. This section allows the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of an additional copy of the program “for archival purposes,” provided that “all archival copies are destroyed in the event that continued possession of the computer program should cease to be rightful.” A number of arguments were advanced in the course of this study for an expansion of this archival exemption in order to cover the kind of routine backups that are performed on computers and to allow consumers to archive material in digital format other than computer programs.

Commenters asserted that consumers need to backup works in digital form because they are vulnerable. That was CONTU’s rationale for recommending that Congress create an exemption to permit archival copies of computer programs. In both cases, the vulnerability stems from the digital nature of the works. It would be perfectly consistent with the rationale of CONTU’s recommendations and Congress’ enactment of section 117 to extend the archival exemption to protect against the vulnerabilities that may afflict all works in digital format.

Evidence was presented to us noting that the archival exemption under section 117 does not permit the prevailing practices and procedures most people and businesses follow for backing up data on a computer hard drive. There is a fundamental mismatch between accepted, prudent practices among most system administrators and other users, on the one hand, and section 117 on the other. As a consequence, few adhere to the law.

While there is no question that this mismatch exists, nobody was able to identify any actual harm to consumers as a result of the limited scope of the archival exemption. Additionally, it was argued that the need to make archival copies of computer programs has diminished, because almost all software sold in the United States is distributed on CD-ROM, which itself serves as an archival copy in the event of hard drive problems or upgrades.

b. Recommendations Concerning the Archival Exemption

Although there has been a complete absence of any demonstrated harm to the prospective beneficiaries of an expanded archival exemption, and although we believe that a strong case could be made that most common archival activities by computer users would qualify as fair use …