Copyright Law Shouldn’t Punish Research and Repair

After eighteen years, we may finally see real reform to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s unconstitutional pro-DRM provisions. But we need your help.

In enacting the “anti-circumvention” provisions of the DMCA, Congress ostensibly intended to stop copyright “pirates” from defeating DRM and other content access or copy restrictions on copyrighted works and to ban the “black box” devices intended for that purpose. In practice, the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions haven’t had much impact on unauthorized sharing of copyrighted content. Instead, they’ve hampered lawful creativity, innovation, competition, security, and privacy.

In the past few years, there’s been a growing movement to reform the law. As locked-down copyrighted software shows up in more and more devices, from phones to refrigerators to tractors, more and more people are realizing how important it is to be able to break those locks, for all kinds of legitimate reasons. If you can’t tinker with it, repair it, or peek under the hood, then you don’t really own it—someone else does, and their interests will take precedence over yours.

It seems the Copyright Office has heard those concerns. As part of an ongoing study, it’s asking for comments (PDF) on whether it should recommend that Congress enact a series of permanent exemptions to the law for several important and useful activities, including security research and repair.

On the one hand, any such recommendation may be too little and too late. Section 1201 is unconstitutional to begin with and should simply be repealed. Short of that, the best way for Congress to fix the law would be to pass Zoe Lofgren’s Unlocking Technology Act, which would protect those who want to break digital locks for noninfringing reasons. The permanent exemptions on the table don’t cover a host of other legitimate activities, like remix videos and documentary films.

On the other hand, this is progress. For almost two decades, EFF and a host of legal clinics and other public interest organizations have been going to the Librarian of Congress to plead for temporary exemptions on behalf of creators, researchers, people with disabilities, and other technology users. We’ve explained why those exemptions are needed and why they won’t harm copyright owners. There is no evidence, not a jot, than any such exemption has led to infringement—but that doesn’t save us from having to march back in every three years to do it all over again. Making a few of those exemptions permanent would let us all focus our energies on expanding the reach of the temporary ones, and working to streamline the process so it is less burdensome for both users and the government.

But that progress won’t be meaningful if the permanent exemptions aren’t truly useful. EFF is drafting comments that we hope will result in a strong and practical set of recommendations. But we need your help. We need to let the Copyright Office—and Congress—know that users want real reform and won’t settle for exemptions that fall short. Please take a moment to sign our petition; we will deliver your signatures to the Copyright Office along with our comment.

Take ActionTell the Copyright Office: copyright law shouldn’t punish research and repair.