Join me, EFF attorney Kit Walsh and iFixit's Kyle Wiens -- along with special guests! -- in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session tomorrow (Thursday) from 11AM-3PM Pacific; we'll be talking about the upcoming Copyright Office hearings on creating exceptions to the DMCA to make room for independent repair and security research. We'll be live here at 11AM tomorrow! Pass it on.
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Update: due to popular demand, we've moved to a bigger space! We'll be at UCLA Moore Hall, Room 3340 (Reading Room), 457 Portola Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095. There's 20 new spaces open: RSVP today!
A law intended to stop people from making off-brand DVD players now means that security researchers can’t warn you about dangers from the cameras in your bedroom; that mechanics can’t fix your car; and that your printer won’t take third party ink.
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Every three years, the US Copyright Office creates temporary exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ban on breaking DRM, provided that people can show that they've been prevented from doing something customary and legitimate with their own property.
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Every three years, the US Copyright Office asks for proposals for exemptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA, which bans breaking DRM; in 2015, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a broad "jailbreaking" exemption to modify the firmware of phones and tablets; this year, we're asking for that permission to be extended to smart speakers like Alexa/Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePods, and the smaller players in the market.
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Every three years, the US Copyright Office has to ask America about all the ways in which Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which bans bypassing DRM, even for legitimate reasons) interferes with our lives, and then it grants limited exemptions based on the results. Read the rest
This month's US Copyright Office study on Section 1201 of the DMCA identified many problems with America's DRM laws, which ban bypassing DRM even when no copyright infringement takes place. Read the rest
A leaked report from the Inspector General reveals that the US Copyright Office blew $11.6m trying to buy a computer system that should have cost $1.1m (they ended up canceling the project after spending the money and no computers were purchased in the end), then lied to Congress and the Library of Congress to cover up its errors. Read the rest
It's been more than 20 years since Congress told the FCC that it should do something about the cable and satellite companies' monopolies over set-top boxes (American households spend more than $200/year to rent these cheap, power-hungry, insecure, badly designed, trailing edge, feature-starved boxes), but it wasn't until this year that the FCC announced its Unlock the Box order and asked for comments. Read the rest
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. Read the rest
Public Knowledge's new report, Captured: Systemic Bias at the US Copyright Office makes a beautifully argued, perfectly enraging case that the US Copyright Office does not serve the public interest, but rather, hands out regulatory favors to the entertainment industry. Read the rest
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just filed a lawsuit that challenges the Constitutionality of Section 1201 of the DMCA, the "Digital Rights Management" provision of the law, a notoriously overbroad law that bans activities that bypass or weaken copyright access-control systems, including reconfiguring software-enabled devices (making sure your IoT light-socket will accept third-party lightbulbs; tapping into diagnostic info in your car or tractor to allow an independent party to repair it) and reporting security vulnerabilities in these devices. Read the rest
In spring, 2015, American farmers started to spread the word that John Deere claimed that a notorious copyright law gave the company exclusive dominion over repairs to Deere farm-equipment, making it a felony (punishable by 5 years in prison and a $500K fine for a first offense) to fix your own tractor. Read the rest
The Library of Congress is about to get its first new honcho in a generation, and not a day too soon, given that the guy who presided over the past generation's worth of copyright policy in America is a proud technophobe whose favorite technological innovation is the fax machine. Read the rest
Ifixit's Kyle Wiens writes about the state of modern farm equipment, "black boxes outfitted with harvesting blades," whose diagnostic modes are jealously guarded, legally protected trade secrets, meaning that the baling-wire spirit of the American farm has been made subservient to the needs of multinational companies' greedy desire to control the repair and parts markets. Read the rest
You will have heard that the US Copyright Office has lifted the temporary ruling under which you were allowed to unlock your phone. EFF explains in detail what this ruling means (it's not what you think -- and in some ways, it's worse):
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First, the good news. The legal shield for jailbreaking and rooting your phone remains up - it'll protect us at least through 2015. The shield for unlocking your phone is down, but carriers probably aren't going to start suing customers en masse, RIAA-style. And the Copyright Office's decision, contrary to what some sensational headlines have said, doesn't necessarily make unlocking illegal.
Unlocking is in a legal grey area under the DMCA. The law was supposed to protect creative works, but it's often been misused by electronics makers to block competition and kill markets for used goods. The courts have pushed back, ruling that the DMCA doesn't protect digital locks that keep digital devices from talking to each other when creative work isn't involved. And no creative work is involved here: Wireless carriers aren't worried about "piracy" of the software on their phones, they're worried about people reselling subsidized phones at a profit. So if the matter ever reached a court, it might well decide that the DMCA does not forbid unlocking a phone.
Now, the bad news. While we don’t expect mass lawsuits anytime soon, the threat still looms. More likely, wireless carriers, or even federal prosecutors, will be emboldened to sue not individuals, but rather businesses that unlock and resell phones.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has selected some of the best submissions from the Copyright Office's review of whether it should continue to be legal in the USA to "jailbreak" your devices in order to make them more suited to their needs. In this post, we hear from a deaf man who jailbreaks his phone so that he can use it as an assistive device at work; a military worker in Kuwait who jailbreaks his phone so he can quickly access the flashlight function to scare off dangerous wildlife near the base; and a nurse whose jailbroken device allows her to "track my performance, treatments used on patients, and the effects of those treatments, much faster with customizations that are not available on a device that is not jailbroken."
A note for Canadians: Bill C-11, Canada's proposed copyright law, has no similar exemption-setting process. That means that if MP James Moore succeeds in passing his legislation, it would be illegal to modify your property in the ways described here.
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Kevin McLeod is a deaf man who uses his Android phone — a Samsung Epic 4G — to assist him with communication, record-keeping, and time management. Like many deaf people, he uses video relay service (VRS) software on his phone to “work on a level playing field with hearing peers and have productive and meaningful careers.” He had these comments for the Copyright Office:
I need a phone that can run VRS software through the day without having to recharge every other hour.
It's time for the triennial Copyright Office hearings on exemptions to the anti-circumvention measures in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Copyright Office will entertain submissions on when and how it should be legal to break DRM. In the last round, EFF successfully petititoned the Copyright Officeto legalize jailbreaking iPhones to enable the installation of software that Apple hadn't approved -- but the Office didn't make it legal to produce or distribute tools for this, nor did they extend the ruling to the iPad.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking the Copyright office for an ambitious group of exemptions this time around:
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In the exemption requests filed today, EFF asked the Copyright Office to protect the "jailbreaking" of smartphones, electronic tablets, and video game consoles – liberating them to run operating systems and applications from any source, not just those approved by the manufacturer. EFF also asked for legal protections for artists and critics who use excerpts from DVDs or downloading services to create new, remixed works. These exemptions build on and expand exemptions that EFF won last year for jailbreakers and remix artists.
"The DMCA is supposed to block copyright infringement. But instead it can be misused to threaten creators, innovators, and consumers, discouraging them from making full and fair use of their own property," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "Hobbyists and tinkerers who want to modify their phones or video game consoles to run software programs of their choice deserve protection under the law. So do artists and critics who use short excerpts of video content to create new works of commentary and criticism.