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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing Copyright Office fails to protect users from DMCA

Copyright Office fails to protect users from DMCA

by Donald Robertson Contributions Published on Oct 26, 2012 06:01 PM
The Copyright Office picked Sony over you; fails to expand DMCA anti-circumvention exemptions to devices other than cell phones, or to the sharing of anti-circumvention software

The FSF has fought for years against the threat of Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). Users should have the right to modify, share and learn from the software on their devices, and technical measures put in place in the name of DRM offer a substantial roadblock. It's even worse when those measures have the force of criminal law behind them, threatening people who simply want to change the software on their computers with jail time. The FSF wants to create a world in which there is no DRM. Until then, at the very least, users shouldn't have to worry about legal consequences for disabling these malfeatures on their own devices.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of course circumvents the rights of users by making it illegal to modify your devices in ways that would give you actual access to them, or to share tools to help others do this. Congress did create one small carve-out from this belligerence; that once every three years the Library of Congress (via the Copyright Office), would consider making exceptions to this broad rule. In 2010, the Office recommended exempting the freeing of cellphones. They did not, however, make clear that this exemption extended to people who distributed tools for freeing these devices. In 2012, we had hoped to expand the exempted class of uses, and encouraged the Copyright Office to extend exemptions to tablets, gaming consoles, and computers running restricted boot. We were on the side of organizations like the EFF, and the Mozilla Foundation as well as hundreds of other individuals calling for the protection of those who simply want to be able to use their own devices in freedom.

But we were not the only ones to send recommendations to the Copyright Office. Large corporations like Sony, and corporate-backed groups like "Joint Creators and Copyright Holders" also sent comments opposing these reasonable exemptions. And the Copyright Office fell for their FUD. The Copyright Office has announced that while freeing your phone in order to install your own software is still permitted, unlocking the phone in order to switch carriers will be phased out. And even that minimal remaining protection has not been extended to tablets. Offering the duplicitous explanation that they weren't sure what a tablet was, the office completely abdicated its responsibility to protect users' rights to run their own software on their devices, as well as their rights to works locked down on those tablets. They similarly rejected exemptions for users wanting to install their own operating system on game consoles, and even worse, failed to extend protection to users who want to install their own operating system on computers with restricted boot.

This means no longer being able to switch your own cell phone carrier without permission. This means no modifying tablet operating systems without legal threat. It means that trying to install a different operating system on your game console could result in the FBI breaking down your door. It means that you cannot even be sure of your right to remove proprietary software from devices encumbered with restricted boot.

The Copyright Office picked Sony over you. They had an opportunity to protect users, but instead chose to protect corporate interests. This is a terrible outcome for users everywhere, and just proves that we need wholesale elimination of the anti-circumvention laws.

We need to band together. Here is what you can do to help:

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