EFF urges car-repair, DVD-remixing exemptions to copyright law

The U.S. Copyright Office is considering exemptions to the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions

U.S. copyright law should allow for people to bypass digital rights management technologies as a way to tinker with a wide variety of products, including cars, DVDs and old video games, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said.

The EFF has asked the U.S. Copyright Office to grant four broad exemptions to the anti-circumvention provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act [DMCA] as the agency conducts its 2015 rulemaking related to that section of the law.

Users should be able to repair, remix and tinker with products protected by access controls, the EFF said in a Monday press release.

The digital rights group has asked the Copyright Office for exemptions to DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions in four areas:

-- People should be able to make remixes of videos from locked sources, such as DVDS and Blu-ray discs, as well as from online streaming sites.

-- Mobile phone and tablet users should be able to jailbreak their devices to run operating systems and applications not authorized by the manufacturer.

-- Gamers should be able to modify old video games that require a centralized authentication server after the server has been shut down.

-- Researchers, mechanics and car enthusiasts should able to research security and safety, perform repairs and customize vehicles, even if access to onboard computers is restricted.

The DMCA shouldn't prevent car owners "from looking under the hood," EFF staff attorney Kit Walsh said in a statement. All vehicle owners benefit when independent repair shops can work on their cars and when researchers can check on safety issues, Walsh added.

The Copyright Office received 44 requests for exemptions of the anti-circumvention provisions before a November deadline for petitions. Consumers Union and other groups asked that customers be able to unlock their mobile devices to change carriers, and the American Foundation for the Blind and other groups asked that they be able to defeat features that prevent text-to-speech, read-aloud functionality on e-books.

The deadline for the first of three rounds of comments in the Copyright Office's 2015 anti-circumvention rulemaking proceeding was last week.

Opponents to the proposed exemptions have 45 days to file responses, after which EFF and other groups wanting exemptions will have another 30 days to provide reply. The Copyright Office is expected to issue its recommendations in the fall, with the Librarian of Congress later making a final decision.

The Librarian of Congress' interpretation of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions has been controversial in recent years. In January 2013, the Librarian of Congress ruled that consumer unlocking of mobile phones for the purposes of switching carriers violated the DMCA.

That ruling prompted Congress to pass the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in mid-2014. The bill restored the past protections for consumers who unlock their mobile phones.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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