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EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: July 2010

July 26, 2010

Rulemaking Fixes Critical DMCA Wrongs

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) won three critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions today, carving out new legal protections for consumers who modify their cell phones and artists who remix videos — people who, until now, could have been sued for their non-infringing or fair use activities.

"By granting all of EFF's applications, the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress have taken three important steps today to mitigate some of the harms caused by the DMCA," said Jennifer Granick, EFF's Civil Liberties Director. "We are thrilled to have helped free jailbreakers, unlockers and vidders from this law's overbroad reach."

The exemptions were granted as part of a statutorily prescribed rulemaking process, conducted every three years to mitigate the danger the DMCA poses to legitimate, non-infringing uses of copyrighted materials. The DMCA prohibits "circumventing" digital rights management (DRM) and "other technical protection measures" used to control access to copyrighted works. While the DMCA still chills competition, free speech, and fair use, today's exemptions take unprecedented new strides towards protecting more consumers and artists from its extensive reach.

The first of EFF's three successful requests clarifies the legality of cell phone "jailbreaking" — software modifications that liberate iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners are said to have "jailbroken" their handsets in order to change wireless providers or use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store," and many more have expressed a desire to do so. But the threat of DMCA liability had previously endangered these customers and alternate applications stores.

In its reasoning in favor of EFF's jailbreaking exemption, the Copyright Office rejected Apple's claim that copyright law prevents people from installing unapproved programs on iPhones: "When one jailbreaks a smartphone in order to make the operating system on that phone interoperable with an independently created application that has not been approved by the maker of the smartphone or the maker of its operating system, the modifications that are made purely for the purpose of such interoperability are fair uses."

"Copyright law has long held that making programs interoperable is fair use," confirmed Corynne McSherry, EFF's Senior Staff Attorney. "It's gratifying that the Copyright Office acknowledges this right and agrees that the anticircumvention laws should not interfere with interoperability."

EFF also won a groundbreaking new protection for video remix artists currently thriving on Internet sites like YouTube. The new rule holds that amateur creators do not violate the DMCA when they use short excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial works for purposes of criticism or comment if they believe that circumvention is necessary to fulfill that purpose. Hollywood has historically taken the view that "ripping" DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose.

"Noncommercial videos are a powerful art form online, and many use short clips from popular movies. Finally the creative people that make those videos won't have to worry that they are breaking the law in the process, even though their works are clearly fair uses. That benefits everyone — from the artists themselves to those of us who enjoy watching the amazing works they create," added McSherry.

On EFF's request, the Librarian of Congress renewed a 2006 rule exempting cell phone unlocking so handsets can be used with other telecommunications carriers. Cell phone unlockers have been successfully sued under the DMCA, even though there is no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking. Digital locks on cell phones make it harder to resell, reuse, or recycle the handset, prompting EFF to ask for renewal of this rule on behalf of our clients, The Wireless Alliance, ReCellular and Flipswap. However, the 2009 rule has been modified so that it only applies to used mobile phones, not new ones.

"The Copyright Office recognizes that the primary purpose of the locks on cell phones is to bind customers to their existing networks, rather than to protect copyrights," said Granick. "The Copyright Office agrees with EFF that the DMCA shouldn't be used as a barrier to prevent people who purchase phones from keeping those phones when they change carriers. The DMCA also shouldn't be used to interfere with recyclers who want to extend the useful life of a handset."

Along with the exemptions that EFF championed, several other DMCA exemptions were expanded, granted or narrowed including one for documentary filmmakers and college-level educators, as well as some for security researchers.

For the full rulemaking order:
https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/dmca_2009/RM-2008-8.pdf

For more on the DMCA rulemaking:
http://www.eff.org/issues/dmca-rulemaking

Contacts:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

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July 26, 2010

EFF Urges Appeals Court to Protect Free Expression and Innovation in UMG v. Veoh

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of nonprofit groups have asked a federal appeals court to protect the "safe harbor" rules for online video service providers that encourage free expression and innovation on the Internet.

In an amicus brief filed Friday in UMG v. Veoh, EFF told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that Universal Music Group's (UMG's) effort to hold online video service Veoh responsible for infringing content uploaded by a minority of its users would thwart federal law and Congress's intent to stimulate electronic commerce and free speech.

"By creating a clear path for innovators like Veoh to limit their liability for the copyright violations of their users, the statutory safe harbors helped foster the innovation environment that has made YouTube, Flickr, eBay, Blogger, and myriad other hosting-based services possible," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "UMG is trying to turn back the clock and reinstate a climate of legal uncertainty that would harm new online businesses and the free expression they foster."

The safe harbors are part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and give sites immunity from monetary damages if they observe the DMCA's "notice and takedown" procedures for potentially infringing content and comply with other legal requirements. In a lawsuit first filed in 2007, UMG argued that the safe harbors don't apply to any service that "displays" or "distributes" copyrighted material, rather than simply "storing" it. Last year, a federal district court rejected that argument. UMG appealed.

"The safe harbors have proven to be a huge success in encouraging the growth of innovative platforms for free expression, hosting vibrant amateur creativity," said McSherry. "But under UMG's vision for the Internet, we'd get something a lot more like television, where nothing is seen until it's approved by an army of lawyers. That's why we're asking the appeals court to affirm the lower court's ruling."

Joining EFF in the amicus brief are the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Internet Archive, NetCoalition, and Public Knowledge.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/umg_v_veoh/UMGvVeohAmicusBrief072310.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/umg-v-veoh

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

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July 14, 2010

Privacy and Anonymity at Risk in New York Conspiracy Suit

New York - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) this week served a motion to quash dragnet subpoenas that put privacy and anonymity at risk for the operators of dozens of Internet blogs and potentially hundreds of commenters.

The subpoenas stem from a state lawsuit filed by New York residents Miriam and Michael Hersh alleging a conspiracy to interfere with their business interests. Issued to Google and Yahoo, the subpoenas demand the identities of users of ten email accounts, operators of 30 blogs and a website that had featured discussions of the plaintiffs among other matters, and the identities of everyone who had ever commented on those sites.

"The First Amendment protects individuals' right to speak anonymously and forces litigants to justify any attempts to unmask anonymous critics," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Litigants cannot forcibly identify entire communities of online speakers -- which include many speakers who no one would claim did anything wrong -- simply because the litigants are curious."

In the motion served on Monday, EFF urged the Supreme Court for Kings County, New York, to quash the subpoenas for failing to satisfy the requirements imposed by the First Amendment, as well as the requirements imposed by New York state law and the federal Stored Communications Act.

"Overbroad subpoenas targeting anonymous speakers without cause naturally creates a chilling effect that may discourage others from exercising their constitutional rights to participate in conversations that take place online," said Zimmerman. "We are asking the court to enforce these reasonable safeguards so that the rights of innocent speakers do not become collateral damage in a dispute between others."

Ron Lazebnik and the Samuelson-Glushko Intellectual Property & Information Law Clinic at Fordham University School of Law assisted EFF in the serving of this motion.

For the full motion to quash:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/hersh_v_cohen/UOJ-motiontoquashmemo.pdf

Contact:

Matt Zimmerman
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
mattz@eff.org

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July 2, 2010

Flawed Prosecution Would Give Websites Extraordinary Power to Dictate Online Behavior

Newark, New Jersey - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of academics and public policy groups are urging a federal judge to dismiss a criminal indictment that could give websites extraordinary power to dictate what behavior becomes a computer crime.

The four defendants in this case are the operators of Wiseguys Tickets, Inc., a ticket-reselling service. In its indictment, the government claims the four purchased tickets from Ticketmaster by automated means, violating Ticketmaster's terms of service and therefore the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). In an amicus brief filed today, EFF argues that this prosecution expands the scope of the CFAA beyond what Congress intended, grounding criminal liability in whatever arbitrary terms of service that websites decide to impose on users.

"Under the government's theory, anyone who disregards -- or doesn't read -- the terms of service on any website could face computer crime charges," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "That gives Ticketmaster and other online services extraordinary power over their users: the power to decide what is criminal behavior and what is not. Price comparison services, social network aggregators, and users who skim a few years off their ages could all be criminals if the government prevails."

The government has suggested that this criminal prosecution is only about protecting consumers' fair access to event tickets. However, Ticketmaster itself has a financial interest in the ticket-reselling business and stands to benefit substantially from putting competitors out of business.

"The CFAA is aimed at blocking trespass and theft, not quashing innovation. Yet under the government's theory, websites could put the power of criminal law behind their own terms of service to create severe obstacles for their competitors," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "The government has overstepped here, and we're asking the judge to dismiss this indictment."

EFF's amicus brief was also signed by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey, and law professors Gabriel "Jack" Chin, Eric Goldman, Michael Risch, Ted Sampsell-Jones, and Robert Weisberg.

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/us_v_lowson/LowsonAmicusBriefFinal.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/07/cfaa-prosecution-wiseguys-not-so-smart

Contacts:

Jennifer Stisa Granick
Civil Liberties Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
jennifer@eff.org

Marcia Hofmann
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
marcia@eff.org

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