Twenty years ago, we saw the creation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was intended to modernize copyright law for the digital age. Instead, it made it much worse.

Ordinary activities in the physical world — like loaning a copy of something, giving it away, or reselling it — are prohibited in the digital world. As media becomes increasingly digital, we can’t share things as we once did, and we don’t own our digital copies, we license them. This has hurt libraries and other public institutions by preventing their ability to purchase, share, and preserve creative works for the future.

It isn’t just media that’s become digital, but our devices as well. This means that in order to repair and sometimes even fully use our devices, digital locks must be broken. To do that lawfully, the Copyright Office has to grant an exemption, which only lasts three years.

Lawful activities, like reselling, repairing, and remixing have become significantly stifled. Unfortunately, what we predicted 20 years ago has come true; copyright law has failed to account for the role that technology plays in our everyday lives.

Fighting for the public’s right to use and own digital works has been a cornerstone of Public Knowledge’s work over the past 20 years. Hear from long-time leaders of this fight on what got us to where we are today and what we can learn from the past 20 years.

This was the third event in our 20th Anniversary event series.


Michael Weinberg, Executive Director at Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy, NYU Law

Lila Bailey, Policy Counsel at Internet Archive

Lateef Mtima, Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law and Founder & Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice

Michelle Wu, Retired Professor of Law at Georgetown University

Moderator :

John Bergmayer, Legal Director at Public Knowledge