New DMCA Exemptions Legalize Phone Jailbreaking & DVD Ripping for Fair Use

If you’re in the United States you might know that there’s this very confusing copyright law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, that (in short) criminalizes certain means of circumventing copyright protection (i.e., digital rights management, or DRM, i.e., that stuff that wouldn’t let you play your MP3s wherever you want). The DMCA is also what led to the implementation of takedown notices on sites like YouTube, which has been criticized for encouraging website owners to take down non-infringing work at the behest of copyright owners (which has led to some bad press situations, like silencing teenage girls singing in their bedrooms and dancing babies).

One of the good things about the law, however, is that it does take into account the potential for changing technology – which is why every few years there is a rulemaking session where people or organizations can submit proposals to the Copyright Office for exemptions to the law. During the last session, about a year and a half ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in coordination with some other groups submitted a proposal with two large initiatives: (1) to legalize “jailbreaking” your phone; and (2) to legalize ripping DVDs and other activities to circumvent copyright protection, as long as the purpose is to create a  video that is found to be fair use. (Previously, even if your final product was entirely legal in that you made fair use of, say, clips from a movie, you could still be in trouble due to the anti-circumvention laws.) The Copyright Office has announced that these exemptions have been added, along with several others. Here’s a basic run-down of the six new exemptions:

  1. Circumventing a DVD’s encryption in order to use short portions in a work that is either for educational purposes, part of a documentary, or non-commercial;
  2. Jailbreaking your phone to use lawfully obtained software (i.e., you can put Google voice on your iPhone if you want to);
  3. Jailbreaking your phone so you can use a different network (i.e., if you want to use T-Mobile on your iPhone);
  4. Circumventing video game encryption for the purpose of security testing or investigation;
  5. Cracking computer programs protected by dongles that are obsolete; and
  6. Distributing a literary work that can be read aloud (i.e., by screen readers for the blind) even when there are access controls to prevent it

This is actually really big news, especially on the phone jailbreaking front – and frankly, a big surprise. Though besides being able to (legally) mess with your phone, this can be considered a triumph on another geek front – for vidders. The Organization for Transformative Works was behind the proposal as well, championing the rights of video remixers, especially those who create music videos as works of fan culture criticism and commentary.

So though the video below may or may not be entirely legal according to U.S. copyright law (there’s some interesting arguments about fair use of the video versus the music), at least now we know that it wasn’t illegal to rip the DVDs to make it.

And some of the other vids that were actually pointed to in the proposal itself as examples of the artistic genre are available here.

[Image Source: joegratz (CC)]

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