#1 On the Copyright Regulations of the DMCA

As a Computer Science major, software developer, and general modern technology enthusiast, I am well-aware of how the rules and regulations set by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are accountable for how we use digital products and services on a daily basis.  It’s how companies can invest billions into software knowing their assets are somewhat protected since a customer cannot simply let his or her friend borrow the installation disc; it’s how the Recording Industry Association of America has the leverage to file lawsuits against individuals downloading music illegally; it’s why, for many years, a song bought on iTunes could be played on nothing but an iPod; and it’s also why it is perfectly legal for me to use a modified iPhone on T-Mobile’s network, despite the phone’s supposed “exclusivity” to AT&T and Verizon.  All this I knew without ever taking a look at the document itself.  Now that this summary of the document has been brought to light to me through this course, I have had the opportunity to read some key sections and analyze exactly how it is written.

One of the first things I noticed was the flagrant ambiguity of the text under the heading entitled, “Circumvention of Technological Protection Measures,” specifically the highlighted paragraph near the top of Page 4. To quote:

“Since copying of a work may be a fair use under appropriate circumstances, section 1201 does not prohibit the act of circumventing a technological measure that prevents copying.”

I have done a decent amount of research on fair use laws in the past for the sake of fighting to restore fair use content onto my YouTube account (a fight which did, in fact, win), but based on this statement, is it legal for one to place a DVD into his or her computer and use decryption software to copy it onto the computer, and from there, another device like a cell phone despite the glaring “FBI WARNING” labels stamped on the reverse of many DVD cases nowadays?  In addition, the summary mentions nothing concerning content distribution (though this may likely be clarified in the DMCA text itself).

One other point I want to mention is actually part of the non-highlighted text. It can be found under the “Exceptions” heading in the paragraph directly above the six highlighted exceptions.  To summarize, it outlines a procedure by which specific exceptions can be made periodically (from my own research, every three years) to the DMCA as technology grows and develops.  The idea is that a regulation in place for technology now may prove to be too restrictive and harm consumers in the process.  In addition to the ones listed in the outline, at least two more have been added that I am aware of:

  1. Circumvention of software that restricts a cell phone to specific networks for the sole purpose of using it on a different network (more commonly known as “unlocking.”)  This exception is responsible for my ability to use T-Mobile as my network provider on the iPhone.
  2. Circumvention of software that restricts a computer from only running software approved by the computer’s manufacturer for the sole purpose of using unapproved software (more commonly known as “jailbreaking.”)  Though this is typically what is inferred by “hacking” a computer system, “jailbreaking,” despite its illicit-sounding slang term, infers a more user-based side to hacking a system.  It is what allows you to play Super Nintendo games on a PlayStation 3, or install a command prompt on your cell phone.

Despite the DMCA’s apparent one-sidedness in most areas to protect the producers rather than allow freedoms to the consumers, leaving the document “open” to exceptions is the most important part of the document.  It reassures us that our government is aware of how quickly our technology changes and that there is little guarantee that a law put in place now will still be effective in the future.  It’s also a reminder to us that with the speed of technological evolution, the cell phone attached to us every second today might be in a recycling plant a mere two years from now.


~ by n00neimp0rtant on January 23, 2011.

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