The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal for users to
break or reverse engineer the DRM that protects music, video, software
and consumer electronics. However, every three years, the copyright
office asks the public to submit requests for new exemptions to the
law. In years past, consumers were given the right to hack
region-locked mobile phones and security researchers were allowed to
circumvent the DRM protecting malware-infected music CDs (such as in
the famous Sony Rootkit fiasco).
The deadline for this year's requests was Tuesday afternoon.
A team from Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society has
requested an exemption that, in the event that a central-server based
DRM scheme fails in the future, would permit consumers to circumvent
and evade the DRM protecting the music, movies, software and games that
they have previously purchased -- in order to maintain their existing
lawful right to access those works.
The team is made up of myself, Phil Malone, a Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Cyberlaw Clinic, and Arjun Mehra, a law student in the Clinic. Our full submission can be downloaded here.
We wish the team good luck as their request moves forward!
A bit of Berkman Center history in this area: In 2006, another Berkman team released The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age. The paper argued, among other things, against penalties "under the DMCA when DRM systems are circumvented purely to enable uses of content that are educational, legally permitted, and noncommercial." Later that year, the Library of Congress exempted six classes of works from DMCA section 1201's prohibition against DRM circumvention, including film clip compilations (a case in the Digital Learning Challenge paper).