DRM gets some limitations: What does that mean for me?

In case you missed it yesterday, the Library of Congress (coupled with a 5th Circut Court of Appeals ruling) made some dramatic changes to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. While it may not seem like a big deal it really is.The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a giant, massive, sweeping piece of legislation that allows copyright holders a great deal of legal power over their intellectual property. Since its inception in 1998 it has made it illegal for anyone to crack the Digital Rights Management (DRM) on basically anything you can digitize (music, ebooks, movies  etc). A prime example is iTunes. You buy the song you can put it on 5 devices, no more. You also can’t play it on any non Mac DRM compliant devices. Breaking that DRM or making a workaround was technically illegal until yesterday.

One of the stipulations of the DMCA is that every three years the Librarian of Congress evaluates the act and can consider adding exemptions to legislature. Yesterday the Librarian released a set of those exemptions, and they have the potential to impact your life in some positive ways. There are a total of six new exemptions (which is a lot), but I’ll only discuss the two biggies here.

You can rip any DVDs you own. Period

Up until yesterday you could technically be sued by a film company if you make a copy of a DVD you already paid for in order to transfer it to something else. For example, I own an iPad. If I ripped a DVD in order to copy it onto there so I can watch it, I am now legally OK. As long as you do not charge money for it you are 100% safe. Now I can FINALLY re-do the last 3 Star Wars Movies!

You can jailbreak your phone

First the exemption makes it totally legal to jailbreak your phone (no matter what phone you have) and run whatever software you want to. Personally I am very happy with this, basically because I hate being told what I can and can’t do with property I pay for. While the jailbreak will still break the user license agreement, which means if you mess up your phone the company does not have to fix it, it still allows all of those people who have created some amazing software packages for jailbroken phones some legal protection.

It is also now legal for you to use software that will unlock your phone for use on a different cellular network. So all you iPhone users who hate AT&T are free to unlock and switch to T-Mobile.

Couple with this the federal appeals courts’ ruling that breaking DRM for “fair use” is legal, and you have a lot of victory points for the fair use community. Personally I could not be happier. Admittedly, no one has really been taken to court over these infringements, but the fact that they could frankly scared me. While Apple (yes I am picking on them again, but these rulings go against all of their DRM craziness) never tried to sue someone for jailbreaking their iPhone, considering they attempt to sue practically every computer and phone company for copyright infringement, it does not seem really beyond their reach. I also am happy that some of the DMCA’s insane power has been taken away. I am in no way condoning people stealing movies, apps, games or anything, but if I buy it I should be able to do what I want with it. If I buy a song I should be able to copy it to any number of devices I own/use. I should be able to backup a DVD on my computer since discs gets scratched and lost. I should be able to get around a CD key requirement if I bought it and lost the box (though sometimes if you call the software company they’ll just give you another). I am glad to see some common sense sneaking back into the DMCA. Hopefully we will see some more soon.


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