Volume 90, Number 1

April 2015

Yes, It’s Illegal to Cheat a Paywall

Theresa M. Troupson

Access Rights and the DMCA’s Anticircumvention Provision

Traditional media companies, such as newspapers, have struggled to adjust their profit models to the Internet economy. Some newspapers have instituted “paywalls,” digital locks that limit access to online articles with varying degrees of logistical and financial success. As paywalls proliferate to protect digital media, methods for circumventing those paywalls develop and propagate just as quickly. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits circumventing an effective technological means of control that restricts access to a copyrighted work. However, two competing interpretations of the statute have emerged. The more widespread approach, the infringement-nexus interpretation, requires a nexus between circumvention and traditional copyright infringement to prove a violation of the statute. By contrast, the access-right interpretation reads the statute literally as providing a new right of access control to owners of copyrighted works. This Note argues that the access-right interpretation correctly reflects Congress’s intent by recognizing that the right to access a work—not just to copy or distribute it—has real value that deserves protection. However, the DMCA has some inherent problems that prevent it from offering effective, meaningful protection to the right of access. This Note discusses those problems and offers solutions for ensuring more effective protection to this newly recognized and increasingly valuable right.