A Map of DMCA Anticircumvention Rulemaking Commenters

I’ve done some research on the DMCA anticircumvention rulemakings held every three years at the Copyright Office. Preliminary results were presented at the 2011 American Political Science Association Annual Conference in Seattle; an updated version of that paper can be found at SSRN.

There are two primary findings from my research: unlike many other rulemakings, individual members of the public participate quite frequently in the DMCA rulemaking process, at least during the comment submission phase. Over time, their participation has shifted from submitting initial comments proposing exemptions to submitting reply comments in support of others’ exemptions.

Second, while the existing academic literature on rulemaking hints that businesses may have disproportionate influence on the final rules that agencies promulgate, in the DMCA rulemaking this turns out not to be the case. Businesses are not significantly more or less likely than other types of commenters (NGOs, academic or library organizations, or individuals) to receive exemptions.* In fact, the number one factor that increases your probability of getting an exemption is whether you have legal representation in the commenting process. Nor is legal representation highly correlated with being a business: aside from individuals, all other types of commenters are about as likely as not to have had legal representation when submitting their comment.

Out of a combination of curiosity and wanting to learn how to use QGIS, I threw together a map of the locations of DMCA commenters during all five rulemakings completed thus far. The white dots represent a single commenter; where two or more emanate from the same city, they’re exploded into a circle whose center is located above the city. The grayscale chloropleth indicates population density. As you can see, both Washington, DC and San Francisco are overrepresented – not surprising given the technology and policy nature of the rulemaking.

Map of DMCA Commenters

So far as is evident from the comments themselves, there haven’t been any from Alaska or Hawaii. There have been several coming from other countries, but the vast majority are from the U.S. This map assumes that the comments without location information are randomly distributed.

* You might object that businesses are not interested in receiving exemptions, but painting all businesses with this broad brush isn’t accurate. For example, smaller cellular service providers have repeatedly requested and supported the phone unlocking exemption, and manufacturers of generic ink and toner cartridges have also been active in seeking exemptions.


About Gabriel

Ph.D. in political science. Postdoc and resident fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project. Tech geek. Mechanically inclined. I study the politics of intellectual property.
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