EFF has published a great critique of the "safety valve" in America's digital copyright law, which is supposed to protect "consumer rights" by allowing for hearings every three years at the Copyright Office to reform the statute.
The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA, 1998) makes it a crime to break a digital lock that controls access to copyrighted works, even if you do so to enable a lawful activity. For example, you might want to break the DRM on a DVD that you bought in Europe so that you can watch it on your the DVD drive in your American laptop. No copyright law protects DVDs from being watched outside the place where they were purchased, but the cartel the controls DVD-player licensing requires manufacturers to prevent you from doing this. The DMCA makes it illegal to break the protection and do something that is perfectly lawful.
Every three years, the Copyright Office holds hearings to determine whether they should allow some exceptions to this law. But the process is so tortured and the criteria are so absurd that this process practically never grants an exemption:
* No Tools. You can get an exemption for acts of circumvention, but the Copyright Office lacks the power to legalize circumvention tools. So, unless you are an engineer, a computer scientists, or can afford to hire them, you're not likely to be able to take advantage of any exemptions granted.
* Impenetrable Complexity, Impossible Burdens. In order to effectively participate in the rulemaking, you need to wade through >200 pages of bureaucratic legalese and have graduate level understanding of copyright law. You have to persuade the Copyright Office that your activity is noninfringing and gather evidence that demonstrates a "substantially adverse effect" on noninfringing uses beyond “mere inconveniences or individual cases."
* "Mere Inconvenience" = Ignoring Consumers. Where consumers are concerned, the Copyright Office discounts their concerns as "mere inconveniences." So region coding is no problem, according to the Copyright Office, because you could just buy a separate DVD player from every region. Copy-protected CDs are no problem because you can play them on CD players, even if they won't work in your computer. Where the copyright industries are concerned, in contrast, the Copyright Office presumes that DRM is the only thing that stands between them and financial ruin.
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