U.S. Copyright Office Considers New Rules Impacting iPads, Video Games, Blu-Rays

The government has begun its triennial rule-making on anti-piracy exemptions to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Every three years, the U.S. Copyright Office hears petitions to exempt certain activities from being illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention protections.

The triennial process has started anew, meaning that consumers will soon get some direction on whether it's proper to remove digital rights management software to make backup copies of music and movies, meaning that documentarians and educators will soon hear whether it's OK to break access controls on DVDs to get ahold of clips for their use. It also means that tinkerers will find out whether they can take iPhones and other mobile devices and "jailbreak" them for interoperability.

In total, the Copyright Office will review 20 comments from public advocates, libraries, documentary filmmakers, and individual consumers expressing various proposals.

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Among the highlights:

  • Public Knowledge is requesting the right to rip purchased DVDs so that consumers will have the right to transfer their lawfully acquired movies onto computer hard-drives and other digital devices. The group believes that the time has come for consumers to be able to make "personal place shifting," especially as DVDs go out of style, and says there will be no piracy repercussions. According to the group's comment, "The Register is in the enviable position of balancing a clear benefit to the public against no cognizable harm to rightsholders because the harm they fear already exists."
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation is proposing the right to "jailbreak" smartphones, electronic tablets and video game consoles. The group says that manufacturers impose technical restrictions that hamper the ability of independent applications to run on these devices. Allowing users to have work-arounds that achieve interoperability will allow "competition, consumer choice, and innovation," according to EFF.
  • The International Documentary Association is requesting the ability to strip away the encryption on DVDs, Blu-Rays, and digitally transmitted video so that filmmakers can gain access to clips for their own works. The group says that filmmakers have long had fair use to copyrighted material, but they are increasingly stymied by new digital protection methods and a complicated clearance process, which has harmed their access and increased burdens when attaining insurance. The group points to several recent documentaries that wouldn't have happened had the Copyright Office not granted an exemption on DVDs the last rule-making go-around, and says it needs to broaden the exemption this time to Blu-Rays and digitally transmitted video.

It's unlikely that all of the exemptions will be granted. At the last review, the office's rejections included such proposals as bypassing region codes on DVDs, unlocking DRM on audiobooks distributed by libraries, and stripping works protected by a broadcast flag.

But the hearings can be entertaining.

For instance, in 2009, Apple vigorously objected to requested exemptions on "jailbreaking" mobile phones. The company warned that if the Copyright Office permitted such a request, it would lead to chaos, including crashes and instability for iPhones, invasion of privacy, the exposure of children to age-inappropriate content, viruses and malware, the crashes of cellular towers, increased piracy, limitations on innovation, and real harm to the Apple/iPhone brand.

The Copyright Office granted the "jailbreaking" exemption anyway. And Apple is doing fine. According to a report put out by UBS today, Apple is on pace to sell a record 30 million iPhones in the current quarter.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner