Conservancy Files Petition for DMCA Exemptions for “Smart” TVs

Conservancy asks U.S. Copyright Office to affirmatively permit community-based hacks on television firmwares

October 31, 2014

Software Freedom Conservancy, with the pro-bono assistance of Tor Ekeland, P.C., filed today a petition for a proposed exception to the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). In its filing, Conservancy asks that the U.S. Copyright Office to legally permit circumvention of encryption for firmwares found on Smart TV products from manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and LG. Conservancy's full Petition for Proposed Exemption under 17 U.S.C. § 1201 is available in PDF and in ODT format.

By default, the DMCA prohibits users from examining and attempting to decrypt firmwares on these devices when the manufacturer has used Digital Restrictions Management (“DRM”) to prohibit modification and augmentation of the software on the device. Most of these devices include software licensed under GPLv2, such as Linux and BusyBox, but the DMCA often legally stymies users' ability to installed modified versions of the firmware, even when the device manufacturer provides the complete, corresponding source for these components and “scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable” (per requirements in the GPLv2). If granted, Conservancy's requested exemptions would liberate users of BusyBox/Linux-based encrypted firmwares to circumvent the encryption (if they find a technically feasible way of doing so), and such users would need not fear the harsh penalties under DMCA for disseminating information on how to circumvent such DRM.

Commenting on today's filing, Karen Sandler, Conservancy's Executive Director, said: We work to help create an open environment for users and developers of free and open source software to innovate and make use of the key freedoms that free software licenses give them. Unfortunately the DMCA curtails these freedoms. Our request is that the U.S. Copyright office restore these freedoms to everyone in the U.S.

Aaron Williamson, Partner at Tor Ekeland, noted the importance of participation in this process by individual citizens, for-profit companies, and non-profits alike: We're pleased to be working with Conservancy on this petition. The DMCA is a flawed law and the exemption process is imperfect, but an exemption that enables improvements to the free and open source operating systems at the heart of these devices will promote consumer innovation and security.

Conservancy hereby releases its Petition under the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0 1.0), in hopes that others will file petitions for other, similar consumer electronics products. The deadline for this round of petitions is this Monday, 3 November 2014.

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