Copyright Office issues new DMCA exemptions: iPhone jailbreaking, noncommercial use of DVD snippetsJuly 26, 2010

Every three years, the United States Copyright Office seeks proposals for exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"). As part of the DMCA, it became unlawful to circumvent access control measures copyright holders used to secure their copyrighted works. For example, it is arguably a violation of the DMCA to use a program to "break" the content scrambling system ("CSS") encryption used for standard DVDs in order to make a copy of the DVD, even if making such a copy would otherwise be considered fair use under copyright law (although a recent decision by the Fifth Circuit arguably holds to the contrary). The purpose of the exemptions is to adapt to any unintended consequences of the DMCA, such that lawful uses of copyrighted works are not unduly restricted.

Today, the Copyright Office issued the list of exemptions in this go-around of the triennial rulemaking process. Included among the newly-granted exemptions are circumvention of the above-mentioned CSS encryption to use "short portions" in new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, when the use is educational, noncommercial, or for documentary filmmaking. This is an important exemption, as it arguably covers the majority of videos on sites such as YouTube where short portions of movies, televisions shows, and the like are posted as a portion of a remix or other creative work.

In addition, unlocking a mobile phone to allow software to be run (commonly called "jailbreaking") is also exempted from the DMCA. Notably, this does not prevent phone providers (such as Apple) from placing the restrictions on a phone in the first instance, it simply makes it not a DMCA violation to remove the restrictions.

The Office also permitted circumvention of prohibitions on "read-aloud" functionality of e-books. Some e-books have been sold with a limitation that prevents the user from using their e-reader's "read-aloud" function, essentially turning the e-book into an audio book. This is now not a violation of the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions.

The Copyright Office revisits these exemptions every three years. Click below for the full text of the exemptions granted, or head to the Copyright Office website for the full release.

Below is the list of exemptions:

(1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

(i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;

(ii) Documentary filmmaking;

(iii) Noncommercial videos

(2) Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset.

(3) Computer programs, in the form of firmware or software, that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network, when circumvention is initiated by the owner of the copy of the computer program solely in order to connect to a wireless telecommunications network and access to the network is authorized by the operator of the network.

(4) Video games accessible on personal computers and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully obtained works, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities, if:

(i) The information derived from the security testing is used primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system, or computer network; and (ii) The information derived from the security testing is used or maintained in a manner that does not facilitate copyright infringement or a violation of applicable law.

(5) Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete. A dongle shall be considered obsolete if it is no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace; and

(6) Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.

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