It's that time again: every three years, the Copyright Office allows the public to ask for exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on "circumvention," which prevents you from unlocking devices you own.
As it usually does, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked for exemptions to be granted: this time around, it's asking for permission to unlock your car's diagnostic software so that you can choose who fixes it; for permission to play abandoned video games that you've bought, but that won't play in emulation (and for which no viable hardware can be readily had); and to renew the jailbreaking exemption that lets you unlock your phone, and to extend that to tablets and other devices; and also to renew the right to jailbreak your DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and streaming videos to let you take excerpts from them.
"These requests highlight some of the ways that Section 1201 of the DMCA has given the Librarian of Congress a veto on innovation and creativity," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "We and many other organizations will have to spend the next year begging the Copyright Office to make sure copyright law doesn't stop user choice and creative expression."
EFF's exemption requests are part of the regular rulemaking process from the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office. Congress created this system to act as a "safety valve" to mitigate the harms the law has caused to legitimate, non-infringing uses of copyrighted materials. But that safety valve is hugely flawed. The every-three-year procedure is burdensome and confusing, with high hurdles to success. Even if an exemption is granted, supporters still have to come back to get it renewed or expanded, as technology develops.
"Technologists and artists should not have to get permission from Washington before they create, learn, and innovate, especially when the window to seek permission only comes once every three years," said EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh. "This rulemaking isn't the 'safety valve' we need to defend free speech and innovation from Section 1201. But until the law is fixed, we'll do our part to fight for those rights before the Copyright Office and in the courts."
(Image: Engine, Luke Jones, CC-BY)