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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and fair use law are two important aspects of copyright as it relates to music:


The DMCA was passed in 1998 to implement two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties. It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works. This includes technologies used to access digital music without permission.


Fair use is a limitation and exception to exclusive rights granted by copyright law. It allows use of copyrighted works without permission for purposes such as criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. When determining fair use for music, courts consider factors like purpose and character of use, nature of work, amount used, and commercial effect. 


Sampling or remixing small portions of songs may qualify as fair use, but using significant portions would likely require permission from the rights holders. Non-profit educational uses are more likely to be considered fair use.


Commercial uses like incorporating music into videos posted to monetized YouTube channels or digital downloads for sale require licenses from the appropriate collection agencies (like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). Failure to obtain proper permission could lead to DMCA takedown notices or copyright infringement lawsuits.


The DMCA protects copyrighted digital works while fair use provides some flexibility, but clear permission is generally needed for commercial or non-transformative uses of significant portions of copyrighted music.

Fair Use