The Copyright Office wants your comments on whether it should be illegal to fix your own stuff

Under Section 1201 of the DMCA, a law passed in 1998, people who fix things can be sued (and even jailed!) for violating copyright law, if fixing stuff involves bypassing some kind of copyright lock; this has incentivized manufacturers so that fixing your stuff means breaking this law, allowing them to decide who gets to fix your stuff and how much you have to pay to have it fixed.

What's more, DMCA 1201 has been used to punish and threaten security researchers who revealed defects in products with these locks, on the grounds that knowing about defects in these products make it easier to jailbreak them. That's turning an ever-larger slice of the products we entrust with our private data, finances, health and even our lives into no-go zones for security research.

The US Copyright Office is consulting on this insane situation, asking for your comments about whether you should be allowed to decide who fixes your stuff, and how you use your stuff, and whether people who discover that your stuff is unsafe should be allowed to tell you about it. You can weigh in on the matter through EFF's Action Center.

On the one hand, any such recommendation may be too little and too late. Section 1201 is unconstitutional to begin with and should simply be repealed. Short of that, the best way for Congress to fix the law would be to pass Zoe Lofgren's Unlocking Technology Act, which would protect those who want to break digital locks for noninfringing reasons. The permanent exemptions on the table don't cover a host of other legitimate activities, like remix videos and documentary films.

On the other hand, this is progress. For almost two decades, EFF and a host of legal clinics and other public interest organizations have been going to the Librarian of Congress to plead for temporary exemptions on behalf of creators, researchers, people with disabilities, and other technology users. We've explained why those exemptions are needed and why they won't harm copyright owners. There is no evidence, not a jot, than any such exemption has led to infringement—but that doesn't save us from having to march back in every three years to do it all over again. Making a few of those exemptions permanent would let us all focus our energies on expanding the reach of the temporary ones, and working to streamline the process so it is less burdensome for both users and the government.

Tell the Copyright Office: Copyright Law Shouldn't Punish Research and Repair

[Corynne McSherry/EFF]