The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, is a fundamental piece of legislation which forms the foundation of US law regarding digital rights. It's far from perfect for consumers — but it also has a massive impact on the progress of research, too.
Slate has a fascinating piece on the topic, written by computer security researcher Edward Felten. It does a wonderful job of shedding light on the way large corporations try to use the DMCA to strong-arm researchers into censoring their research:
Back in 2001, my colleagues and I had had to withdraw a peer-reviewed paper about CD copy protection, because the Recording Industry Association of America and others were threatening legal action, claiming that our paper was a "circumvention technology" in violation of another section of the DMCA.
[I]t showed that the DMCA had become a go-to strategy for companies facing embarrassing revelations about their products... The research community saw this problem coming and repeatedly asked Congress to amend the bill that would become the DMCA, to create an effective safe harbor for research. There was a letter to Congress from 50 security researchers (including me), another from the heads of major scientific societies, and a third from the leading professional society for computer scientists. But with so much at stake in the act for so many major interests, our voice wasn't heard.
It's a reminder that, while it's easy to be outraged by broken policy when it comes to the digital rights of consumers, there's plenty, plenty more to worry about in the grand scheme of things. Go read the whole article to find out more. [Slate]