Conservancy Requests Three DMCA Exemptions to Let People Control Their Devices
byon September 16, 2020
Every three years, the US Copyright Office conducts a rulemaking process to consider exemptions to the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). These are the provisions of the law that make it a criminal offense to circumvent digital rights management technology (DRM). These provisions give technology companies far too much control over the technology people use, prohibiting all kinds of modification and tinkering in the name of “copyright protection.” We would love to see the anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA repealed in their entirety.
Until that happens, the rulemaking process gives us an opportunity to request exemptions that are strategically important for software freedom and essential for us to be able to control our own devices. This year we requested three new exemptions:
- To allow people to investigate whether software on a device violates free and open source software (FOSS) licenses, and to exercise rights that would ordinarily be granted by those licenses were it not for the technological restrictions
- To allow people to conduct good-faith testing, investigation, and correction of privacy issues—for example, think Internet of Things devices that phone home with more information than they disclose
- To allow people to install alternative firmware on routers and other network hardware they buy, to add or remove functionality as they see fit
All of these exemptions recognize the growing prevalence of small, dedicated devices in many people’s lives. We’re always horrified to learn when gadgets that should be innocuous like doorbells, thermostats, and baby monitors are spying on us, whether by design or careless programming. It should not be a crime for people to investigate these issues and take steps to defend themselves with devices they’ve bought and own—especially when the device is running FOSS that promises the user those very rights. Our requests call on the US Copyright Office to codify that common sense into law.
We also requested renewal of the exemption that allows people to install alternative software on smart TVs that we previously won in 2015.
These requests kick off the beginning of the process, where all new exemptions are requested. We can expect the Copyright Office to announce what exemptions are granted around this time next year. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the process.
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