NCIS Member Wasserman on DMCA

WHY INDEPENDENT SCHOLARS NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE DIGITAL MILLENNIUM COPYRIGHT ACT (DMCA) AND HOW IT MUST BE AMENDED SPECIFICALLY TO INCLUDE US.

The following personal story illustrates why the DMCA matters to all independent scholars.

I published a timeline of the Austrian composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) in 2003 at a now defunct web site. It was the first timeline of Zemlinsky to be published on the Internet and it met with appreciation by Zemlinsky scholars and other music scholars. I shared a link in 2009 and the complete timeline (now out of date) is still available on the Zemlinsky page of The Orel Foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing attention to the composers suppressed by the Nazi regime. The timeline is still available at

http://orelfoundation.org/index.php/composers/bibliography/alexander-zemlinsky.
The link is at the end of a bibliography that was posted previously by the foundation at the site.

My timeline took a great deal of research at German- and English-language sites, archives and libraries because so little was written or known about Zemlinsky (a contemporary and colleague of Gustav Mahler) up to 2003.

My timeline - with historical context - was "appropriated" by a Belgian man who reproduced it in toto at his own web site without any mention of my name or acknowledgment of my copyright. It simply looked like his own work. Apparently my timeline was up at that Belgian site for a number of years before I caught up with it.

I was shocked and amazed at what amounted to wholesale theft of my intellectual property. Not being able to afford a copyright attorney I found the offender's full name and postal address by searching www.betterwhois.com. I wrote him a cease and desist letter. I gave him a time certain at which the timeline must be taken down or I would proceed with a suit under international, Belgian, and US copyright law.

It was, of course, a bluff but he had less knowledge of copyright law than I had (and mine was precious little not being a subject I studied in law school.) The Belgian man took my Zemlinsky timeline down and within a few years the Belgian site disappeared completely. I neither know nor care what happened to the site's owner. I can never forget the fear I felt that my work could be stolen - theft of intellectual property - and I am uncertain how I as an independent scholar/researcher and writer would have this kind of protection.

The DMCA seems to have independent scholars low – actually not at all - on the totem pole of its concerns. It offers more protection to elementary school kids. And, I am, of course, still very concerned about my ability to access existing and future scholarly sources: collections, books, journal articles, libraries, institutions, publications, and archives whether the items are in hard copy or electronic, that is digital, versions.

Just to let you know that once it has happened to you as a scholar or published writer, it is as unforgettable as it is regrettable.

NCIS member Janet Wasserman
November 2015

With thanks to NCIS member Isabelle Flemming for the following information. She is hard at work covering DMCA issues:

The American Library Association's website that both encapsulates the Act and provides links for those wishing to see the complete report:
http://www.ala.org/advocacy/copyright/dmca

A timeline prepared by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) that tracks its history in the United States:
http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/copyright-ip/2486-copyright-timeline#.VkIh1vmrTIU

Some of the law cases fought over this huge issue:
http://drm.web.unc.edu/relevant-law/dmca/major-cases/

Contact us

National Coalition of Independent Scholars