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GitHub offers open source developers legal counsel to combat DMCA abuse

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GitHub has announced a partnership with the Stanford Law School to support developers facing takedown requests related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

While the DMCA may be better known as a law for protecting copyrighted works such as movies and music, it also has provisions (17 U.S.C. 1201) that criminalize attempts to circumvent copyright-protection controls — this includes any software that might help anyone infringe DMCA regulations. However, as with the countless spurious takedown notices delivered to online content creators, open source coders too have often found themselves in the DMCA firing line with little option but to comply with the request even if they have done nothing wrong.

Backing up developers

The problem, ultimately, is that freelance coders or small developer teams often don’t have the resources to fight DMCA requests, which puts the balance of power in the hands of deep-pocketed corporations that may wish to use DMCA to stifle innovation or competition.

Thus, GitHub’s new Developer Rights Fellowship — in conjunction with Stanford Law School’s Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic — seeks to help developers put in such a position by offering them free legal support.

The initiative follows some eight months after GitHub announced it was overhauling its Section 1201 claim review process in the wake of a takedown request made by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which had been widely criticized as an abuse of DMCA. At the same time, GitHub also announced the $1 million Developer Defense Fund, which is now being put to use for the Developer Rights Fellowship.

So moving forward, whenever GitHub notifies a developer of a “valid takedown claim,” it will present them with an option to request free independent legal counsel. The fellowship will also be charged with “researching, educating, and advocating on DMCA and other legal issues important for software innovation,” GitHub’s head of developer policy Mike Linksvayer said in a blog post, along with other related programs.

“The fellow will also train students in the clinic and other lawyers on how to work with developers and advocate on behalf of open source communities,” he said. “On the whole, these activities will help shape a developer-friendly legal landscape and balance the scales on legal issues important for open source developers.”

The Juelsgaard Clinic is hiring now for its first GitHub Developer Rights Fellow.

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