By Jason Blanchard and Zach McDowell
Earlier this week, the U.S. Library of Congress handed down a ruling that expands the circumstances in which academics can circumvent copy protection in order to use copyrighted materials for fair use. This ruling will significantly affect instructors using DVD clips and other technologies in their course. However, the text of the ruling can be a bit confusing for those not acquainted with the technology or history of digital rights management (DRM) and fair use. Here is a summary for staff, faculty and student to better understand their newly expanded rights.
We often run across questions of copyright when dealing with instructional technology. Instructors, especially in large lecture classes, are regularly expected to incorporate a myriad of sound, video, and text into their lectures and lessons. However, without a law degree (and even with one), it is nearly impossible to navigate the murky waters of copyright law. Luckily, the concept of fair use has gained more traction over the years, allowing use of copyrighted materials for certain purposes (educational, noncommercial, etc.) without having to seek out licensing for each small clip. However, to extract these clips (for example from a DVD) it often requires breaking copy protection.The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, was designed to protect copyrighted works disseminated via technology devices and the Internet. Specifically, the DMCA made it illegal to bypass copy protection (or DRM) to access copyrighted works for any reason. Effectively, this made activities such as copying clips from a DVD for a college lecture illegal, even if it fell under fair use. Every three years, the U.S. Library of Congress reviews the DMCA to determine if exemptions to DRM circumvention are needed. Last year the Library of Congress granted exceptions to Media and Film Studies professors to break DRM to extract clips. Earlier this week, the Library of Congress expanded its previous ruling to six classes of works, describing instances where bypassing copy protection is not a violation of the DMCA (read the text of the ruling on copyright.gov).
Six classes of works exempt from DMCA anti-circumvention laws:
- Motion picture DVDs: Within the bounds of fair use, clips can be copied from DVDs by college and university professors, film and media studies students, documentary filmmakers, or producers of “noncommercial videos.”
- Cellphones and smartphones: Software can be installed even if it is not approved by the device’s manufacturer (i.e. “jailbreaking” an iPhone).
- Cellphones and smartphones: Devices can be altered with software that enables the device to access wireless networks “authorized by the operator of the network.”
- Video games: DRM can be circumvented for testing a game’s security vulnerabilities.
- Computer programs protected by hardware keys (dongles): Can be altered for access without a software key when the dongle is no longer manufactured.
- eBooks: Can circumvent controls preventing access to features such as read aloud functions or other assistive formats.
The most direct affect of this ruling for university faculty, staff and students is the expansion of rights to bypass copy protection on DVDs for academic and noncommercial purposes when the derivative works fall under fair use, and all other attempts to acquire the content without breaking DRM are exhausted. This is an important ruling for university students and faculty who re-purpose or remix small portions of motion pictures for critical purposes. Under these new exemptions, academic freedom to motion picture content is expanded.
Also making a buzz on the Internet is the exemption for “jailbreaking” mobile devices. Many users have complained about how some smartphones are “locked down” and restrictive to consumers and developers. The new exemptions give legal sanction to those who wish to write and add software without the consent of the mobile device’s manufacturer. Writing and uploading apps for the iPhone, for example, without going through Apple’s “App Store” is now protected (NOTE: doing so is still a violation of Apple’s “terms of service,” and will void the warranty. Also, this does not apply to the iPad at the moment).
Overall, the six newly exempted works expand the rights of users to access technology devices and exercise fair use of copyrighted works. Visit the consultants in the Instructional Media Lab for more information about the ruling or about accessing content.
Image courtesy of NightRPStar via CC Attribution 2.0 Generic