The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is a 1998 United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization. It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works.
The DMCA framework is a bit like passing notes in class. The copyright owner hands GitHub a complaint about a user. If it’s written correctly, we pass the complaint along to the user. If the user disputes the complaint, they can pass a note back saying so. GitHub exercises little discretion in the process other than determining whether the notices meet the minimum requirements of the DMCA. It is up to the parties (and their lawyers) to evaluate the merit of their claims, bearing in mind that notices must be made under penalty of perjury.
The DMCA provides a safe harbor for service providers that host user-generated content. Since even a single claim of copyright infringement can carry statutory damages of up to $150,000, the possibility of being held liable for user-generated content could be very harmful for service providers.
With potential damages multiplied across millions of users, cloud-computing and user-generated content sites like YouTube, Facebook, or GitHub probably never would have existed without the DMCA (or at least not without passing some of that cost downstream to their users).
DMCA takedown notices are used by copyright owners to ask GitHub to take down content they believe to be infringing. If you are a software designer or developer, you create copyrighted content every day. If someone else is using your copyrighted content in an unauthorized manner on GitHub, you can send us a DMCA takedown notice to request that the infringing content be changed or removed.