DMCA Does Not Apply to U.S. Government
According to a recent court ruling, we are all subject to the provisions of the DMCA, but the government is not:
The Court of Federal Claims that first heard the case threw it out, and the new Appellate ruling upholds that decision. The reasoning behind the decisions focuses on the US government’s sovereign immunity, which the court describes thusly: “The United States, as [a] sovereign, ‘is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued . . . and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.'”
In the case of copyright law, the US has given up much of its immunity, but the government retains a few noteworthy exceptions. The one most relevant to this case says that when a government employee is in a position to induce the use of the copyrighted material, “[the provision] does not provide a Government employee a right of action ‘where he was in a position to order, influence, or induce use of the copyrighted work by the Government.'” Given that Davenport used his position as part of the relevant Air Force office to get his peers to use his software, the case fails this test.
But the court also addressed the DMCA claims made by Blueport, and its decision here is quite striking. “The DMCA itself contains no express waiver of sovereign immunity,” the judge wrote, “Indeed, the substantive prohibitions of the DMCA refer to individual persons, not the Government.” Thus, because sovereign immunity is not explicitly eliminated, and the phrasing of the statute does not mention organizations, the DMCA cannot be applied to the US government, even in cases where the more general immunity to copyright claims does not apply.
It appears that Congress took a “do as we say, not as we need to do” approach to strengthening digital copyrights.
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