April 29, 2009 | By Fred von Lohmann

DMCA Hearings on Phone Unlocking, Jailbreaking, and DVD Clipping at Stanford This Friday

This Friday, May 1, the U.S. Copyright Office comes to Stanford Law School to hold hearings on proposed exemptions to the DMCA's prohibition on circumventing technical protection measures (i.e., DRM). The hearings will be open to the public, and are scheduled to run from 9a to 5p. (For more on the DMCA triennial rulemakings, take a look at the Copyright Office's website on the topic.)

Among the proposed exemptions that will be discussed will be three proposed by EFF:

  • Renewal of the 2006 exemption for unlocking cell phones so that the handsets can be used with any telecommunications carrier. Several carriers have threatened cell phone unlockers with legal action under the DMCA, even though there is no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking. The digital locks on cell phones, however, make it harder to resell, reuse, or recycle the handset.
  • A DMCA exemption for cell phone "jailbreaking" -- liberating iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. More than a million iPhone owners have "jailbroken" their iPhones in order to use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store." Apple has taken the position that any modification of an iPhone's software to enable the use of applications from other sources violates the DMCA.
  • An exemption for amateur creators who use clips from DVDs in order to create noncommercial, noninfringing videos. Hollywood takes the view that "ripping" DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose. The growing popularity of sites like YouTube and creative practices like vidding, however, make it clear that the future of "remix culture" depends on being able to take digital clips from existing material, including DVDs.

A number of other proposed exemptions will also be discussed (including those intended to help film professors, the visually impaired, and those struggling with obsolete software "dongles"), and still more will be addressed next week, when the hearings will continue in Washington DC. on May 6-8.

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