Exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

by Pillsbury’s Social Media & Games Law Blog
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The U.S. Copyright Office recently issued its exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 ("DMCA"). The exemptions, effective as of Oct. 28, 2012 define the limited circumstances that users are allowed to circumvent technology that prevents access to copyrighted works, e.g., content encryption schemes. The exemptions are reviewed and issued anew every three years, so what was allowable prior to the ruling may not be anymore, and new exemptions, primarily directed to assistive technologies for the blind, are available.

Companies that relied on previous exemptions should take heed that many are no longer lawful, and the Copyright Office affirmatively denied the universal legality of jailbreaking devices. For our complete client alert on the topic, please click here.

The following are the newly issued exemptions:

Literary works distributed electronically - Assistive Technologies: This exemption allows blind people or those with "print disabilities" to work around circumvention measures on lawfully obtained copies of an electronic book ("eBook") for the purpose of enabling "read aloud" functionality in the eBook. The only catch is that the author must be paid for the work as he or she would be if the book had been purchased through other channels. This caveat though should not be an issue for any eBook that is purchased from an established eBook seller.

Motion Pictures and Other Audiovisual Works - Captioning and Descriptive Audio: This exemption allows users to circumvent access control mechanisms to access the playhead and time codes in a motion picture or audiovisual work so that assistive technologies can be developed to render descriptions of the visual portions of the content. The exemption was made so that that visually or hearing impaired users can enjoy a lawfully obtained copy of the work.

The following are alterations to prior exemptions:

Wireless Telephone Handsets - Software Interoperability: This exemption allows users to circumvent access control schemes on cellular telephones for the purpose of executing lawfully obtained software programs that the cell phone provider has not provided (e.g., "jailbreaking" a phone). A request to extend this class of works to tablet computers was rejected.

Wireless Telephone Handsets - Interoperability with Alternative Networks: This exemption allows users to circumvent access control schemes for the purpose of "unlocking" a cell phone and using it on a network that it was not originally purchased for (e.g. purchasing a phone at a T-Mobile store and then unlocking the phone so it may be used on AT&T's network). The change in this exemption is that owners of legacy phones may still circumvent the control schemes to unlock previously purchased phones, but for phones purchased more than 90 days after the effective date of the exemption, the exemption does not apply.

Motion Picture Excerpts - Commentary, Criticism, and Educational Uses: This exemption allows users to excerpt portions of motion pictures, lawfully obtained on DVDs or online where the use is for the purposes of commentary or criticism, provided the use must also be: in noncommercial videos, in documentary films, in nonfiction eBooks offering film analysis, or in educational classes such as film study or that require close analysis of media excerpts. The alteration is that excerpts from motion pictures obtained online are now allowable.

Various Proposed exemptions that were not adopted relate to:

  • Digital Access to Literary Works in the Public Domain
  • Software Interoperability of Video Game Consoles
  • Software Interoperability of Personal Computing Devices
  • Space Shifting of Motion Pictures and Others Works on DVDs and Other Media

Various Prior exemptions that are no longer available:

  • Circumvention of technological protection measures to control access to video games accessible on a personal computer provided the circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws.
  • Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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