Tell the U.S. Copyright Office that DMCA anti-circumvention rules are broken

Sign EFF's petition telling the U.S. Copyright Office that you support permanent exemptions. Even if you are outside the U.S. you can still sign the petition, and every voice counts.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has some truly terrible provisions creating legal penalties for accessing works encumbered with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). As we explained previously:

The [DMCA] has one particularly draconian measure criminalizing the circumvention of digital restrictions management (DRM). This section, which appears in law as 17 U.S.C §1201 states that '[n]o person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work'. This facet of the law completely violates users' rights to their own devices, and their legitimate use rights to copyrighted works. The law further criminalizes the sharing of tools and information needed to circumvent these restrictions. As paltry compensation, Congress did carve out a narrow window of opportunity to exempt certain uses via the DMCA exemption process.

We've also written previously about how broken DMCA anti-circumvention exemptions process is, noting that "[e]xemptions don't fix the harm brought about by the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, but they're the only crumbs Congress deigned to throw us when they tossed out our rights as users." After years of fighting back against this broken system, there may be some very limited progress in improving, but not fixing, the situation.

As part of a study of the 1201 provisions, the Copyright Office is looking for feedback (PDF) on the possibility of making some exemptions permanent, particularly ones related to the right to repair and research. One of the worst aspects of the current exemptions process is that any effort made to exempt certain uses from these draconian rules is thrown out every three years. If someone wants to maintain an exemption under the current system, they have to keep going back and arguing for these exemptions each time they expire. That is one reason why we have called for scrapping the exemption process and repealing the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions. Having some uses granted a permanent exemption would lighten the work load for those fighting to protect every use, though it ultimately won't end the harm wrought by the DMCA.

There is a danger of course, that granting piecemeal permanent exemptions could slow progress on the ultimate goal of fully repealing the anti-circumvention provisions. Treating the symptoms without curing the disease patches over the problems caused by the DMCA and makes its rules seem more liveable than they really are. We must never lose sight of the fact that the anti-circumvention provisions are unethical, and should be fought at every instance.

But as long as we keep our eyes on the prize, pushing for smaller changes that can benefit many users is a worthy goal. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) points out that "Section 1201 is unconstitutional to begin with and should simply be repealed," but is still putting together comments in support of these permanent exemptions, and has created a petition so that everyone can help to push for these reforms. As EFF explains the problem succinctly:

Given the pace at which technology evolves, there’s no way that a set of exemptions can ever keep up with the plethora of otherwise legal activities that the law calls into question. Under 1201, users’ rights will always lag behind technology.

The FSF will be filing a comment calling for the repeal of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions but also supporting these permanent exemptions. Instead of launching a duplicate rallying effort, we're supporting EFF's petition, to make a louder unified voice. We encourage you to join in their effort, and to share the petition with your friends and colleagues.

This is just one step in a larger battle to end the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, but it will take all of us to make sure that even these limited reforms come to pass. Here's what you can do to help:

  • Sign EFF's petition telling the U.S. Copyright Office that you support permanent exemptions. Even if you are outside the U.S. you can still sign the petition, and every voice counts.

  • Share this article with friends and colleagues and ask them to sign the petition as well.

  • Support our efforts to end the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions by making a donation.