Software Freedom Conservancy Files Comment in DMCA Review

February 9, 2015

Software Freedom Conservancy has filed a Comment with the United States Copyright Office with the help of pro bono counsel, Tor Ekeland, P.C. This filing is the next step in Conservancy's ongoing efforts to petition the Copyright Office to legally permit circumvention of encryption for firmwares found on Smart TV products from manufacturers. You can read Conservancy's full Long Comment Regarding a Proposed Exemption Under 17 U.S.C. 1201.

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) in the United States makes it illegal to go around technical measures put in place to lock down copyrighted material, regardless if the ultimate use of the material would be permitted under copyright law. The DMCA also established a review process that happens every three years, under which the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office consider and grant exemptions they determine appropriate. If granted, Conservancy's requested exemptions would liberate users of BusyBox and/or Linux-based encrypted firmwares to circumvent encryption and share with others how to do so, without fear of harsh DMCA-imposed penalties. As the filing states, "this exemption will enable Smart TV owners to access the FLOSS applications pre-installed on their TVs—including those produced by Conservancy's member projects—and to exercise their corresponding rights to study, modify, and share these applications."

Conservancy filed its initial petition in October. This second step provides full comments about the proposal and its necessity. Both the initial petition and the Long Comment were filed with the help of Aaron Williamson and Frederic Jennings of Tor Ekeland.

"Conservancy's member projects and other FLOSS developers gave Smart TV manufacturers the freedom to innovate on top of proven software," said Frederic Jennings, "With this petition, we seek to assure those same freedoms for Smart TV owners, developers, and enthusiasts, as guaranteed by the GPL."

"There are a lot of reasons users might want to modify the software on their TVs that should be explicitly permitted under the DMCA," said Karen Sandler, Conservancy's Executive Director." Making them accessible to people with disabilities and curtailing surveillance are just two. That's what software freedom is all about."

In addition to the Comment filed by Conservancy regarding Smart TVs, Karen Sandler joined a coalition of researchers in requesting a separate exemption for medical devices. That filing, which was done by the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society of Harvard Law School, includes a declaration from Karen describing her own experience and explaining why the exemption is necessary from her perspective.

The petition process for these exemption requests will continue with a deadline for objections of March 27 and final reply from supporters on May 1.

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