The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed three exemption requests with the U.S. Copyright Office today aimed at protecting the important work of video remix artists, iPhone owners, and cell phone recyclers from legal threats under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
The DMCA prohibits "circumventing" digital rights management (DRM) and "other technical protection measures" used to protect copyrighted works. While this ban was meant to deter copyright infringement, many have misused the law to chill competition, free speech, and fair use. Every three years, the Copyright Office convenes a rulemaking to consider granting exemptions to the DMCA's ban on circumvention to mitigate the harms the law has caused to legitimate, non-infringing uses of copyrighted materials.
One proposal filed by EFF is aimed at protecting the video remix culture currently thriving on Internet sites like YouTube. The filing asks for a DMCA exemption for amateur creators who use excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial works. Hollywood takes the view that "ripping" DVDs is always a violation of the DMCA, no matter the purpose.
"Remix is what free speech looks like in the 21st century, which is why thousands of noncommercial remix videos are posted to YouTube every day," said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "The DMCA wasn't intended to drive fair use underground."
Another proposal requests a DMCA exemption for cell phone "jailbreaking" -- liberating iPhones and other handsets to run applications from sources other than those approved by the phone maker. Hundreds of thousands of iPhone owners have "jailbroken" their iPhones in order to use applications obtained from sources other than Apple's own iTunes "App Store."
"It's not the DMCA's job to force iPhone users to buy only Apple-approved phone applications," said von Lohmann. "The DMCA is supposed to block copyright infringement, not competition."
EFF's third proposal asks for a renewal of an exemption previously granted for unlocking cell phones so that the handsets can be used with any telecommunications carrier. Carriers have threatened cell phone unlockers under the DMCA to protect their anti-competitive business models, even though there is no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking. Instead, the digital locks on cell phones make it harder to resell, reuse, or recycle the handset.
"Millions and millions of Americans replace their cell phones every year. EFF is representing three organizations that are working to make sure the old phones don't end up in the dump, polluting our environment," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. " Also, renewing this exemption will continue to help people who want to use their phones while traveling and will promote competition among wireless carriers."
The rulemaking proceeding will accept public comments regarding proposed exemptions until the deadline of February 2, 2009. The Copyright Office will then hold hearings in Washington, DC and California in Spring 2009. The final rulemaking order will be issued in October 2009.
For more on EFF's exemption requests:
For more on the anti-circumvention rulemaking: