The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) generally forbids the circumvention of technological measures designed to prevent the piracy of copyrighted works, such as the use of a black box in order to gain access to cable signals. In recognition of concerns that these restrictions might prevent activity that would constitute fair use under copyright law -- i.e., use that is legally permissible, even though unauthorized -- the DMCA provides for the Librarian of Congress to make periodic rules about the application of the anti-circumvention restrictions.
This summer, the Librarian of Congress amended the rules interpreting the DMCA, setting forth six activities which shall be exempt from the prohibitions against circumvention of technological measures set forth in the DMCA. These exemptions allow users to circumvent the technological protections of copyrighted works in order to ensure that the public may continue to benefit from the traditional standards of non-infringing fair use.
The following six classes of activities are now exempt from the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA:
1. Mobile Phones - Networks: "Jailbreaking" smartphones that have measures designed to prevent the phones from being used on different networks. Users may now legally unlock their mobile phones for use on any network. However, doing so may still void the phone's warranty.
2. Mobile Phones - Software Applications: "Jailbreaking" smartphones to enable them to use applications not approved by the maker of the phone. For example, users may now legally configure their iPhones to use applications not purchased from iTunes. However, just as above, doing this may void the phone's warranty.
3. Dongles: Bypassing dongles -- small pieces of hardware that attach to computers in order to allow them to use copyrighted software -- when the dongle is broken, if the dongle is "no longer manufactured" and "replacement or repair" is no longer reasonably available.
4. E-books: Breaking through copyright protections in order to enable audio playback of the text, so long as no officially licensed version has a "read-aloud" function. This exemption was created for the benefit of those who are blind or vision-impaired.
5. DVDs: Ripping short portions of movies from DVDs for the purpose of criticism or commentary in three situations: 1) educational use by college and university professors as well as college and university film and media students, 2) documentary filmmaking, and 3) non-commercial videos.
6. Video Games: Bypassing copyright protections of video games for personal computers for the purpose of testing, investigating, or correcting security flaws in the games. Information so gained must be used and maintained in a way that does not facilitate copyright infringement. This exemption was adopted with the possible security problems of SecuROM and SafeDisc technology in mind.
The forgoing exemptions will remain in effect for at least three years, after which the Librarian of Congress may revisit these and other DMCA/fair use issues in its next rulemaking.