INFORMATION ACTIVISM IN THE FIRST DIGITAL COPYRIGHT DECADE: A CASE STUDY OF THE DIGITAL FUTURE COALITION, 1996-2002 AND THE INTERNET THAT NEARLY WAS
Keywords:IP,, DMCA, anticircumvention, fair use, activism
The Digital Future Coalition (1996-2002), was an unprecedented public interest coalition on Internet and copyright policy, with much farther-ranging effects than has been recognized previously. Uniting commercial and noncommercial stakeholders to push back against IP maximalism on the nascent Internet, it altered both treaty and legislative language, blocked U.S. copyright protection for databases, enhanced popular engagement with fair use and set the stage for the “Right to Repair” movement. This historical research was accomplished primarily by interviewing representatives of the DFC and opposing groups, as well as one ex-government official, and by consulting a hitherto untapped, private archive of documents relevant to the history of the DFC. We consider our topic within contexts in three areas: the history of the formation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA;) public interest coalition characteristics in communication; and the political roles of coalitions. In this article, we accept the assessment of the DMCA as legislation that both foreclosed options for the Internet’s development and created an enduring regime to protect copyright monopolies on the Internet. However, we argue that a closer look at the DFC’s actions, goals and long-range effects can reposition that coalition productively in the history. Such repositioning helps to understand how different the DMCA today is from the originally-proposed policy and the implications of those differences. Finally a detailed accounting of the DFC’s dynamics and tactics may prove instructive in assessing the efficacy of contemporary information activist groups.