San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed petitions with the U.S. Copyright Office seeking to keep users who remix DVD content or jailbreak their devices from losing their legal safe harbors and to establish new rights for those who need to circumvent "access control" or "digital rights management" (DRM) technologies for activities such as conducting security research, repairing cars, and resuscitating old video games. The petitions were submitted as part of the complex, triennial rulemaking process that determines exemptions from Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
With the passage of the DMCA in 1998, Congress created "anti-circumvention" measures, ostensibly designed to prevent people from undermining DRM for purposes of copyright infringement. Recognizing that the law could impede lawful and important uses of copyrighted works, Congress included a provision in which the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress are tasked with deciding which activities should and should not be exempted every three years through a complicated legal process.
The rulemaking process allows organizations like EFF to fight for the rights that digital businesses and consumers should already have. Even when petitions are successful, groups such as EFF still need to fight for each exemption to be reinstated each cycle.
In the 2015 petitions, EFF focuses on these uses:
- Conducting security and safety research and performing repairs and customization on vehicles, where access to onboard computers is typically restricted (https://eff.org/r.knqu and https://eff.org/r.jb4u)
- Creating fair use remixes of videos from locked sources, including DVDs and Blu-ray discs, as well as from online streaming sites (https://eff.org/r.bytr)
- Jailbreaking phones and tablets to run operating systems and applications not specifically authorized by the manufacturer (https://eff.org/r.7jpk and https://eff.org/r.tydf)
- Modifying older video games that require a centralized authentication server, after that server has been taken offline (https://eff.org/r.7vmq)
"The DMCA shouldn't keep vehicle owners from looking under the hood," said Staff Attorney Kit Walsh, lead drafter of the petitions relating to vehicles. "We all benefit when independent repair shops have the knowledge they need to compete, when experts are able to check for safety issues, and when enthusiasts can come up with car mods and share their knowledge with the world."
This rulemaking is the fifth held by the Copyright Office, and the fourth time EFF has fought for exemptions. In 2006, EFF did not participate and instead focused on revealing how ineffective and burdensome the process is for consumers, innovators, repairers, and creators.
"Section 1201 of the DMCA has essentially given the Librarian of Congress control over what we can and can't do with our own electronic devices," EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz, lead drafter of the jailbreaking petitions. "The DMCA was supposed to protect against copyright infringement, but the law, including the labyrinthine exemption process, chills all kinds of lawful activities completely unrelated to infringement."
Opponents to the exemptions have 45 days to file responses, after which EFF will have another 30 days to provide counter-replies. After that, the Copyright Office is expected to issue its recommendations in the fall, with the Librarian of Congress making final decisions.
In January, EFF separately launched the Apollo 1201 Project, in which author and digital-rights champion Cory Doctorow will work with EFF to repeal laws protecting DRM, assist EFF with DRM-related litigation, and partner with industry to develop viable, legal alternatives to digital restrictions.
EFF's remix petition was drafted and co-submitted with the Organization for Transformative Works. EFF’s remaining petitions received invaluable assistance from the NYU Technology Law & Policy Clinic, attorney Marcia Hofmann, and former EFF intern Kendra Albert.
For more information on the 2015 rulemaking, visit:
Media Relations Coordinator
Electronic Frontier Foundation