Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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7/27/2010
01:29 PM
Jim Rapoza
Jim Rapoza
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Rolling Back The DMCA

Probably one of the most damaging things to happen to technology in the last twenty years was the passage of the DMCA. But a recent decision by the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress has rolled back some of the reach of the nefarious DMCA.

Probably one of the most damaging things to happen to technology in the last twenty years was the passage of the DMCA. But a recent decision by the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress has rolled back some of the reach of the nefarious DMCA.The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) was passed in 1996 ostensibly as an antipiracy bill. But the broadness of the bill and the way in which it gave DRM (even really weak DRM) the full protections of the law has had massive effects on technology well outside of movies, music and other intellectual property. Over the years the DMCA has been used to stifle criticism, prevent legitimate competition, protect failing business models, it's even been used to stop the sale of generic printer ink cartridges.

The recent decision by the Copyright Office granted three exemptions to the DMCA in order to protect fair use and other legitimate usage options that the DMCA has been preventing.

Getting the most attention has been the exemption that allows users to jailbreak their phones (specifically Apple iPhones), which is definitely big news and, along with the renewal of the right to unlock phones, helps to make smartphones more portable and give users more freedom about how and where they use their phones.

But I was most excited by the exemptions that go a long way towards returning traditional fair use rights.

Under traditional fair use rights, it has been allowed to use portions of copyrighted materials for teaching, documentary films, and for criticism and commentary. However, under the DMCA these rights didn't matter as it was illegal to break the DRM no matter what the end use.

The new exemptions fix this, giving educators and others the right to break DRM in order to use content under fair use provisions. One portion I was very glad to see even lets security researchers break DRM in order to look for flaws and vulnerabilities in applications and systems.

Of course, there are some aspects of this that remain problematic. For example, while the right to break the DRM now exists, the tools themselves for breaking the DRM will most likely remain illegal (though very easy to find on the Internet).

While these exemptions are very welcome, the DMCA still remains a large problem for technological innovation and freedom and will continue to be used to limit choice and legitimate competition.

But at least things are improving. I'm especially looking forward to the many cool (and now legal) mashup videos which should start popping up now on YouTube. And you will even be able to watch them on a phone that's been jailbreaked. Sweet!

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