Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Beginning of the End...:)

The DMCA is the worst law ever enacted by Congress vis a vis tech, creativity and the freedom to do whatever to a device one legally buys from any given manufacturer because...

"It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Passed on October 12, 1998 by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users."

With a just little bit of analysis, one can see how this "law" not only stifles innovation and dictates what one can do with hardware but it also, in reality, undermines what the DMCA is designed to do, protect copyright because it's against the law to improve the DRM tech of any hardware if the item in question already uses the DMCA law to tell buyers how the hardware is to be used. "This sentence is false." - Liar's Paradox

"But tucked away in the DMCA is the stipulation that every three years, the Librarian of Congress, on behalf of the Library of Congress (which houses the US Copyright Office) will evaluate this infuriating legal bear trap and consider exemptions to the circumvention clause, giving you the right to blast DRM for select uses.

The Librarian has decreed a set of such exemptions, and they are a (relative) doozy. We're here to help you make sense of these dizzying acronyms, legalese, and the consequences it'll have on the way we all use technology.

What exactly is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA, because that's a lot to type out) is an addition to the existing Copyright Act of 1976, intended to deal with the rise of digital media and mass online proliferation. The 1976 act was, of course, never meant to deal with game changing technologies like DVDs, MP3s, and—gee golly!—modems. The ability to make a perfect digital copy of a movie or song and distribute thousands of copies online sent copyright holders (and, unfortunately, lawmakers) into a frenzy, with the DMCA being the reactionary end result. In short, the act makes bypassing DRM for your own personal or educational consumption—things that would normally be legally protected as fair use—illegal.

That sounds kind of excessive. Are there ANY exemptions?

Yes. But they were few, far between, and often not very significant—such as allowing university professors to rip a DRMed DVD to show short clips to students. Not exactly permissive. But, not wanting to be too shortsighted given the unbelievably rapid advance of technology, Congress mandated that the Librarian of Congress review and declare new exemptions to the DMCA's anti-circumvention powers every three years. And this year is one of those years.

So, what are the newest exemptions?

The full text of the six (!) new exemptions to the DMCA can be viewed at the Library of Congress, but we'll give you a quick rundown here.

You can rip your own DVDs, and nobody will stop you.

First, and arguably most importantly, is an exemption for DVDs you legally own, giving everyone (not just film and media studies majors!) the right to break DRM for the purposes of "short" use in both "documentary filmmaking" and original "noncommercial videos." The first is rather specific, of course, but the broadness of the latter is impressive—although for now you can't appropriate the entire film. But as long as you aren't charging money for it or profiting off it, it's noncommercial. So go ahead, rip and remix a scene from Inception so that it actually makes sense.

You can jailbreak your phone.

Second, and another huge one, is an exemption that allows you to jailbreak your phone—100% legally—and run the applications of your choosing. As Ars Technica points out, this is almost certainly a direct shot at Apple and the battle over jailbroken iPhones. Since computer code is classified as a literary work under copyright law, and, as the Library of Congress pointed out, jailbroken firmware alters "fewer than 50 bytes of code out of more than 8 million bytes, or approximately 1/160,000 of the copyrighted work as a whole," Apple's infringement claims have been totally bogus.

The third exemption is for software that would unlock your phone for use on a different network. Again, a loss for Apple and AT&T. As we've commented, this won't stop Apple from continuing to lock jailbreakers out through firmware updates and voided warranties, but the issue was clearly of enough importance to prompt Apple to issue a strongly worded defense of its practices before the federal government.

And The Rest:

The fourth exemption is narrower than the first three, granting the right to crack video or computer game DRM (such as SecuROM) for the purposes of research or "investigation." The language here is broad enough to give a little wiggle room (after all, anyone who's curious can investigate).

The fifth exemption is less exciting still, allowing you to bypass software protected by a hardware dongle that is either broken or no longer manufactured.

DRM on encrypted eBooks to have the text read aloud, even if this function is explicitly prohibited by copy protection. This is great news for the blind and otherwise visually impaired."

Now, the next intelligent step would be to restore copyright back to what the Founding Fathers had in mind: 15 years with an option to extend it 15 more years. After that, the copyright ends and the work can be used by anyone as per the Public Domain.
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