Every 3 years you get to beg the government for the right to treat your property as if you owned it


Section 1201 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act bans jailbreaking devices, even for lawful purposes -- meaning that you can't jailbreak your tractor in order to take it to the service-center of your choosing or fix it yourself.

In writing 1201, Congress set out a genuinely bizarre process whereby the Copyright Office entertains petitions for exceptions to this rule every three years, and then doles out a few mingy permissions to treat the things you own as if they were your property. The rules are baroque and the counterpleas from the companies who are making bank by ripping you off with DRM are hilariously histrionic, but that's just the surface.

The Copyright Office takes the position that it can only grant permission to make uses, but not tools: it can give you permission to jailbreak your Iphone, but it can't legalize making tools to jailbreak Iphones. Selling, trafficking in, or sharing information about these tools remains a civil and criminal offense, punishable by a $500K fine and 5 years in prison for first offenses. You're allowed to jailbreak your Iphone, but you have to figure out how to do it on your own, from first principles.

This year, I rejoined the Electronic Frontier Foundation to end this nonsense once and for all, in part by invalidating this part of the DMCA.

Glenn Fleishman's in-depth Fast Company story on the Copyright Office's triennal 1201 process gives us a more in-depth look at just how fucked up this all is:

Another new twist in this go-round involves participation. While the Copyright Office doesn't require legal briefs, and one submission was from one "Blinky X," the submission process is not as ideal as, say, the FCC's for encouraging and managing submissions from the adversely affected users mentioned in the DMCA. The Copyright Office required a filer to download a Word document and select one of 27 unlabeled categories (shown on the site but not in the document), and then upload it.

Kyle Wiens, the head of iFixIt, a firm that documents the innards of electronic devices and sells tools and parts to repair and augment them, filed statements in several categories, and appeared on multiple panels at the hearings in Los Angeles. He advocates a "right to repair" for both cost and environmental reasons—keeping owners from being dependent on manufacturers for sometimes pricey fixes and keeping equipment out of landfills or electronics recycling programs.

In the case of the triennial exemption review, Wiens tried to "repair" the submission process. iFixIt created a streamlined form to collect comments and then file on behalf of consumers. It received 40,000 comments, and created a script to convert these to the appropriate Word format and upload at a rate of one per second, avoiding causing problems by overloading the Library of Congress's servers. Or so Wiens thought. iFixIt instead accidentally brought down the LoC's email system. Every uploaded comment was being emailed, and apparently the system couldn't handle that relatively small number of messages.

"One of the most backwards, technologically poor government agencies is in charge of the future of innovation in the U.S.," Wiens says. The Library of Congress decides "what technology is all right for modifying and what is not." The irony doesn't escape him. The office agreed to accept a bulk submission from him for each category as combined comments. It's unknown how the scale of those comments will affect proceedings, which should result in decisions in a few months. (The library is a technological mess, with the General Accounting Office noting in a report, "The library does not have the leadership needed to address these IT management weaknesses.")

The Bizarre Process We Use To Approve Exemptions To The Digital Milliennium Copyright Act [Glenn Fleishman/Fast Company]