Every three years, the US Copyright Office undertakes an odd ritual: they allow members of the public to come before their officials and ask for the right to use their own property in ways that have nothing to do with copyright law.
It's a strange-but-true feature of American life. Blame Congress. When they enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, they included Section 1201, a rule that bans people from tampering with copyright controls on their devices. That means that manufacturers can use copyright controls to stop you from doing legitimate things, like taking your phone to an independent service depot; or modifying your computer so that you can save videos to use in remixes or to preserve old games. If doing these legal things requires that you first disable or remove a copyright control system, they can become illegal, even when you're using your own property in the privacy of your own home.
But every three years, the American people may go before the Copyright Office and ask for the right to do otherwise legal things with their own property, while lawyers from multinational corporations argue that this should not happen.
The latest round of these hearings took place in April, and of course, EFF was there, with some really cool petitions (as dramatized by the science fiction writers Mur Lafferty, John Scalzi, and Cory Doctorow [ahem]), along with many of our friends and allies, all making their own pleas for sanity in copyright law.
We commemorated the occasion with a collection of short video conversations between me and our pals. Here's a little guide:
- Talking about jailbreaking with Cydia creator Jay 'Saurik' Freeman.
- Talking about fair use with eminent legal scholars
- Talking about game preservation with Alex Handy from The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment
- Talking about the right to repair with Kyle Wiens from iFixit
We will learn the fate of all our petitions later this year, when the Copyright Office makes its recommendations and the Librarian of Congress decides. In the meantime, let's remember what's at stake here: the right to use the things you own in ways that make sense to you, not to the shareholders of distant and unaccountable corporations.