The DMCA in Action: Copyright Law, Algorithmic Censorship, and Free Speech in The Internet Age 

Brian Vogel


Faculty Advisor:


My name is Brian Vogel, and I am currently a Junior studying Legal Studies, Global Health Studies, and Music Performance. 


My topic is an examination of the exploitation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for political purposes. This Act controls copyright liability online; it decides who is and isn’t liable for copyright infringement in popular online spaces like YouTube, Facebook, and Google. This system can be exploited by algorithms and bad-faith actors by intentionally reporting material as copyrighted for purely political purposes, rather than on the basis of intellectual property claims. My project aims to study, document, and analyze this phenomenon, how/why it happens, and who is responsible. 

The topic began after learning about one of the thesis’ case studies and expanding out from there. I read a news article about a cop who began playing music when he noticed he was being recorded during an arrest. It seemed like such a strange thing to do until I investigated the laws and incentive structures that informed that decision. I also learned how common this type of DMCA abuse actually is, and so I decided to view these instances through a socio-legal research framework. 


One reason my thesis is structured as a series of case studies is that this field has large gaps in data. When looking at DMCA claims and algorithmic censorship, it can be challenging to get a comprehensive scope of the issue. How many claims are done in bad faith? How many are made in error by an algorithm? How many counterclaims get ignored or under-investigated? These types of raw data would be especially useful as future research from someone with more time and resources. 

As a third year, I do not have concrete plans for graduation, and I may go in any number of directions. It is likely I will apply for graduate school or law school, but where and for what is still to be determined.