Keeping your freedom intact when registering or renewing as a DMCA agent
Users shouldn't be forced to use nonfree software when interacting with their own government. Every user has the right to control their own computing, and the government shouldn't be forcing you to download and install proprietary software just to take advantage of its services. But when it comes to registering and renewing the status as an agent under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the United States, that's exactly what the government expects you to do.
Users are likely familiar with the DMCA's more draconian aspects, namely the creation of legal penalties for circumventing Digital Restrictions Management. The Free Software Foundation's (FSF) Defective by Design campaign fights to end that nightmare and repeal that part of the law. But like many laws, it's chock-full of a wide variety of provisions, the anti-circumvention rules being only one of them.
Another piece of the law creates what are known as the "safe harbor" provisions. These rules set out some steps that maintainers of Web sites can take to avoid liability when a user of their site uploads potentially infringing copyrighted materials. The main provision here is that if a copyright holder finds their work hosted on your site without their permission, they can submit a take-down notice to an agent registered for your site. This agent can then remove the work, thus avoiding liability for the potentially infringing distribution. Without this safe harbor, the site maintainer could potentially be sued.
While this safe harbor rule can lead to abuse, with improper take-downs, it also allows maintainers of Web sites to permit their users to share works. If this rule wasn't in place, it would be too dangerous to accept such uploads without reviewing each work -- something most Web sites can't afford to do. The Free Software Foundation takes advantage of the safe harbor provisions to ensure that we can continue to share software created and uploaded by free software developers, or to share information, for example found in the Free Software Directory, or to help people organize local communities via LibrePlanet.org.
Users have a right to control their own computing. Governments everywhere should ensure that participating in any program they provide does not require the use of nonfree software. But where governments are slow to react, we all have to work together to route around the threat of proprietary software. Here's what you can do to help:
Spread the word to any Web site maintainers you know and explain that they can register using free software.
Use the add-ons to register for your own sites, and let us know you did by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.