Will the Copyright Office’s Announcement Change the World? Probably Not.

The Copyright Office’s announcement on Monday July 26th could be earth shattering, paving the way for market disruption and ground breaking discovery, or it could just be another blip on the radar as the announcement doesn’t really change anything.

Every three years the Librarian of Congress is to determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the DMCA’s prohibition against circumvention of technology that effectively controls access to a copyrighted work. During this rulemaking process, fifty-six comments were submitted for the 11 classes of works published for the notice and hearing rulemaking proceedings. Thirty-seven witnesses appeared during the four days of public hearing in Washington and in Palo Alto, California.

The purpose of the proceeding is to determine whether current technologies that control access to copyrighted works are harming consumers’ noninfringing use of their devices. The proceeding is not about the actual act of circumventing copy controls nor is it about the production and distribution of products or services that promote the circumvention of copy controls. The proceeding is about the actual controls in place, and whether those controls are fair to consumers.

People under the umbrella of the six announced classes and engaging in noninfringing uses of copyrighted works will not be subject to the statutory prohibition against circumventing these technologies. Briefly stated, the six exemptions to prosecution are:

1. Defeating a lawfully obtained DVD’s encryption for the sole purpose of short, fair use in an educational setting or for criticism.

2. Computer programs that allow you to run lawfully obtained software on your phone that you otherwise would not be able to run aka Jailbreaking to use Google Voice on your iPhone.

3. Computer programs that allow you to use your phone on a different network aka Jailbreaking to use your iPhone on T-Mobile.

4. Circumventing video game encryption (DRM) for the purposes of legitimate security testing or investigation.

5. Cracking computer programs protected by dongles when the dongles become obsolete or are no longer being manufactured.

6. Having an ebook be read aloud (ie for the blind) even if that book has controls built into it to prevent that sort of thing.

In today’s news, the most focused upon exemptions are the ability to “jailbreak” your wireless telephone handsets and the ability to use software to use another wireless telecommunication network. This has legitimized an already widespread community of people who jailbreak their phones. Will this lead to the downfall of the Apple’s App Store? Probably not. Apple reminded customers in a statement to Cult Of Mac that jailbreaking their iPhones voids the device’s warranty, which means no free repairs if your phone goes bust because of that.

While it is important to notice the statements coming from the Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress, the whole purpose of the process is to make sure the DMCA is up to date with current trends. Knowing that cracking DRMs on video games for security testing is important to video game security testers, but that doesn’t really affect the majority of Americans. However, knowing that people can jailbreak their iPhone and also use whatever voice/data network they choose is quite relevant. The problem with this “earth shattering” news is that people have been doing this since the iPhone came out, and Apple will still not replace your phone if you mess it up.