Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from 1998 prohibits the circumvention of technological measures employed by, or on behalf of, copyright owners to protect access to their works.
Open-source developers regularly face takedown claims under Section 1201 but, rather than fight it, they often decide to avoid the cost and risk by just removing the code they’ve been working on.
Unjustifiable takedowns are damaging to the open-source community who put time and effort into helping others innovate. The looming threat of legal action is discouraging to anyone looking to contribute to open source.
Mike Linksvayer, Head of Developer Policy at GitHub, wrote in a blog post:
“It is hard to stand up for your rights if you don’t know what they are. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was written to strike a complicated balance between innovation, speech, and creative work online.
This complexity–in particular Section 1201, which prohibits circumvention of technological protection measures like digital rights management (DRM)–is especially hard on open source developers working in their spare time, without the resources of a large company behind them.
When developers looking to learn, tinker, or make beneficial tools face a takedown claim under Section 1201, it is often simpler and safer to just fold, removing code from public view and out of the common good.”
GitHub is setting out to fix this issue by creating the GitHub Developer Rights Fellowship at the Stanford Law School Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic.
When GitHub notifies a developer of a valid takedown claim, they will give them the option to seek free independent legal support from the new clinic.
Beyond providing legal support to individual developers, the clinic will also seek to provide an educative resource around relevant issues and help to guide the shape of future policy by advocating on the behalf of innovators, entrepreneurs, and consumers.
“The fellow will also train students in the clinic and other lawyers on how to work with developers and advocate on behalf of open source communities,” wrote Linksvayer.
“GitHub stands committed to defending developers’ rights on our platform and to advancing the interests of developers everywhere.”
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