Have you tried modifying, repairing, or diagnosing a product but bumped into encryption, a password requirement, or some other technological roadblock that got in the way? EFF wants your stories to help us fight for your right to get around those obstacles.

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to circumvent certain digital access controls (also called “technological protection measures” or “TPMs”). Because software code can be copyrightable, this gives product manufacturers a legal tool to control the way you interact with the increasingly powerful devices in your life. While Section 1201’s stated goal was to prevent copyright infringement, the law has been used against artists, researchers, technicians, and other product owners, even when their reasons for circumventing manufacturers’ digital locks were completely lawful.

Every three years, there is a window of opportunity to get exemptions to this law to protect legitimate uses of copyrighted works. Last time around, we were able to preserve your right to repair, maintain, and diagnose your smartphones, home appliances, and home systems. For 2021, we’re asking the Copyright Office to expand that exemption to cover all software-enabled devices and to cover the right to modify or customize those products, not just repair them. As more and more products have computerized components, TPM-encumbered software runs on more of the devices we use daily—from toys to microwaves—putting you at risk of violating the statute if you access the code of something you own to lawfully customize it.

How You Can Help

To help make our case for this new exemption, we want to hear from you about your experiences with anything that might have a software component with a TPM that prevents you from making full use of the products you already own. From the Internet of Things and medical devices, to Smart TVs and game consoles, to appliances and computer peripherals, to any other items you can think of—that’s what we want to hear about! As an owner, you should have the right to repair, modify, and diagnose the products you rely on by being able to access all of the software code contained in the products. These may include products you may not necessarily associate with software, such as insulin pumps and smart products, like toys and refrigerators.

If you have a story about how:

  • someone in the United States;
  • attempted or planned to repair, modify, or diagnose a product with a software component; and
  • encountered a technological protection measure (including DRM or digital rights management—any form of software security measure that restricts access to the underlying software code, such as encryption, password protection, or authentication requirements) that prevented completing the modification, repair, or diagnosis (or had to be circumvented to do so)

—we want to hear from you! Please email us at RightToMod-2021@lists.eff.org with the information listed below, and we’ll curate the stories we receive so we can present the most relevant ones alongside our arguments to the Copyright Office. The comments we submit to the Copyright Office will become a matter of public record, but we will not include your name if you do not wish to be identified by us. Submissions should include the following information:

  1. The product you (or someone else) wanted to modify, repair, or diagnose, including brand and model name/number if available.
  2. What you wanted to do and why.
  3. How a TPM interfered with your project, including a description of the TPM.
    • What did the TPM restrict access to?
    • What did the TPM block you from doing? How?
    • If you know, what would be required to get around the TPM? Is there another way you could accomplish your goal without doing this?
  4. Optional: Links to relevant articles, blog posts, etc.
  5. Whether we may identify you in our public comments, and your name and town of residence if so. We will treat all submissions as anonymous unless you expressly give us this permission to identify you.

This is a team effort. In seeking repair and tinkering exemptions over the years, we’ve used some great stories from you about your repair problems and projects involving your cars and other devices. In past cycles, your stories helped the Copyright Office understand the human impact of this law. Help us fight for your rights once more!

Thank you to Natasha Tverdynin and Michael Rubayo at the Georgetown Intellectual Property and Information Policy Clinic for helping prepare this call to action.