Document Type


Publication Date

May 2007


The WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) recognized the need to maintain a balance between the rights of authors and the larger public interest in updating copyright law in light of advances in information and communications technologies. But the translation of this balance into the domestic laws of the United States and European Union has not been fully successful. In the DMCA, Congress achieved a reasonable balance of competing interests in its creation of safe harbors for internet service providers. However, contrary to its apparent intention, Congress failed to achieve a similar balance of interests when establishing new rules forbidding circumvention of technical protection measures (TPMs) used by copyright owners to control access to and use of their works. The EU Copyright Directive spoke of a commitment to ensuring that certain public interest uses can be made of technically protected works but contains limits that seemingly undermine this commitment. As a result, national implementations of the Copyright Directive have not adequately facilitated public interest uses of technically protected content. We believe that practical judicial and administrative measures can and should be devised to implement the spirit of the WCT in both the U.S. and EU without reopening the contentious debates that engulfed the process leading up to enactment of the DMCA and the EU Copyright Directive. To this end, we propose adoption of a “reverse notice and takedown” procedure to help achieve some of the balance in anti-circumvention rules that the WCT endorsed, but which implementing legislation has thus far failed to deliver. Under this regime, users would be able to give copyright owners notice of their desire to make public interest uses of technically protected copyrighted works, and rights holders would have the responsibility to take down the TPMs or otherwise enable these lawful uses. A reverse notice and takedown regime would achieve for the anti-circumvention rules a comparable symmetry with the balance embedded in the ISP safe harbor rules. It would also effectuate the nascent, but not fully realized, legislative intent to permit public interest uses of technically protected digital content, while at the same time protecting copyright owners against circumvention of TPMs that would facilitate or lead to massive infringements. In the U.S., the most likely way to achieve this goal is through judicial interpretation of the anti-circumvention rules through case by case adjudication. In the EU, by contrast, member states could implement a reverse notice and takedown regime in the course of fulfilling their obligations under Article 6(4) of the Copyright Directive, which requires them to ensure that users of technically protected works can exercise certain public interest exceptions. Nations that have yet to implement the WCT may find our proposed reverse notice and takedown regime provides a far more balanced way to comply with the treaty than the approach being promoted by U.S. trade negotiators.

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