San Francisco - Twelve years after the passage of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law continues to stymie fair use, free speech, scientific research, and legitimate competition. A new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) collects reported examples of abuses of the DMCA and the ongoing harm the law continues to inflict on consumers, scientists, and small businesses.

The U.S. Copyright Office is currently mulling proposed exemptions to the DMCA's ban on "circumventing" digital rights management (DRM) and "other technical protection measures" used to restrict access to copyrighted works. The Copyright Office is empowered to grant exemptions to the law every three years to mitigate the harms that DRM otherwise would impose on legitimate, non-infringing uses of copyrighted materials.

The triennial Copyright Office rulemaking, however, has not been enough to prevent abuses of the DMCA. EFF's report details the numerous harms stemming from the DMCA's ban on circumventing DRM, including Apple's attempts to lock down the iPhone and force users into its App Store. Also new in this year's report is the account of hobbyists threatened by Texas Instruments for blogging about potential modifications to the company's programmable graphing calculators as well as the story behind the legal attacks on Real DVD and other products that create innovative new ways for consumers to enjoy DVD content they have legitimately purchased.

"The DMCA's ban on tampering with digital locks on content is a dangerous anachronism, a holdover from a time when people thought DRM could solve all of Hollywood's problems," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "The DMCA's ban on bypassing DRM has failed to stem digital copyright infringement, but it has unfortunately been repurposed as a cudgel to threaten legitimate research and competitors."

Among the DMCA exemption requests currently before the Copyright Office are three from EFF. One asks for an exemption for amateur creators who use excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial remix videos. Another would explicitly exempt cell phone "jailbreaking," allowing iPhones and other handsets to run applications from any source. EFF's third proposal asks for a renewal of an exemption previously granted for unlocking cells phones so they can be used with any mobile carrier. A final decision on these and other requests is expected from the Copyright Office within the next few weeks.

For "Unintended Consequences: Twelve Years Under the DMCA":

For more on EFF's exemption requests:


Fred von Lohmann
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues