Bill Introduced To Fix Anti-Circumvention Provision Of DMCA

from the well-needed dept

While there was a lot of talk after the White House agreed with an awful lot of people that mobile phone unlocking should be legal, there’s been little real action. Part of the problem might be that the White House suggested that this could be fixed via telecom law, when the whole issue had nothing to do with telecom law, but the broken anticircumvention provisions of the DMCA, also known as 17 USC 1201. While Congress did put forth a bunch of bills, they were all lacking, and none seemed to really tackle the underlying problem: 17 USC 1201 is completely broken. It makes circumventing a technical protection measure a form of infringement, even if the circumvention has nothing to do with actual copyright infringement. Furthermore, it makes it illegal to “manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof,” that is primarily designed for circumventing digital locks even if the end use is not infringing.

Thankfully, Rep. Zoe Lofgren has finally introduced a real reform bill that tries to tackle this issue, along with Rep. Thomas Massie, Rep. Anna Eshoo and Rep. Jared Polis. The bill, called the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013, changes the law to make it clear: if you circumvent some sort of digital lock for a reason that has nothing to do with infringement, it would no longer be illegal. Basically, it would add the following:

It shall not be a violation of this section to circumvent a technological measure in connection with a work protected under this title if the purpose of such circumvention is to engage in a use that is not an infringement of copyright under this title.

Similarly, circumvention tools that have primarily non-infringing uses would also be legalized. It would still be illegal to do that big list of things above if the intent is to infringe, but merely creating the tools for non-infringing purposes would be legalized. Thus, tools for unlocking mobile phone, and the act of unlocking mobile phones, would be legal.

The bill also has two other key pieces. First, it makes it clear that it is not copyright infringement to switch networks and then access or load a copy of software that is stored in RAM. This seems very specific, but some operators have argued that by putting in a clause in a user agreement that forbids switching networks, those who do so could infringe by then accessing software stored in memory.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the bill addresses the claims that fixing the DMCA would violate trade agreements (we’ve heard seven different trade agreements would be violated with this simple fix of the DMCA) by telling the President that Congress says he needs to fix those agreements. Nice and simple:

The President shall take the necessary steps to secure modifications to applicable bilateral and multilateral trade agreements to which the United States is a party in order to ensure that such agreements are consistent with the amendments made by this Act.

This is actually really important. Because (just watch) copyright maximalists love to scream about how changes like this would “violate our international obligations” (while leaving out the fact that they were the ones who wrote half of those agreements in the first place). But the fact is that Congress has authority over international trade, not the executive branch. So if Congress wants, as would be the case with this bill, it can order the executive branch to change or fix any international agreements that get in the way of good law.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Bill Introduced To Fix Anti-Circumvention Provision Of DMCA”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
cpt kangarooski says:

Re: Netflix?

No. DVD rental doesn’t involve any royalties (unless the renter wants it to, for some inscrutable reason, I suppose). Per First Sale, any lawfully made copy, i.e. the plastic video disc, can be rented as the owner of the copy (as opposed to the owner of the copyright) sees fit. No royalties are due, no permission is needed, and there’s nothing special about the copies. Netflix could buy DVDs from BestBuy or Amazon, put a sticker on them, toss them into envelopes, and be all set.

Transmitting is a different kettle of fish, and first sale will not help. I suppose they could pull a Cablevision and rent individual discs to customers without the discs leaving the premises. The discs would then be loaded into players (or would permanently live in them) and the video would be streamed to the individual renter. But this is rather more annoying for Netflix to implement as opposed to what Cablevision or Aereo set up, and I doubt they would.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Netflix?

I suspect that Netflix’s activities would be covered by contracts and licenses that prevent would them from doing this.

However, I do wonder if it would mean that tools could become available to allow offline play of Netflix’s content (for example, if a program was created to bypass Netflix’s DRM and save a copy of a film locally but delete it after one play, is that an infringing action or merely VCR-like time shifting)?

There’s some interesting questions to be raised here, for sure, but I doubt that large players currently locked into contracts with content owners are going to be the ones taking advantage of this.

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: re: Trade Agreements

Superfluous only, I think. IIRC Congress has the power to regulate foreign commerce, the President has the power to negotiate and agree to treaties, and the Senate has the power to ratify treaties. Congress isn’t ever bound by treaties, and can override them as they see fit. This may cause problems with our international relations, but that’s the President’s problem.

At worst they can’t force him to do anything, but it’s more a political problem than anything where unconstitutionality would pose a problem for passing the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: May finally be legal to play DVDs on Linux

unfortunately, unless you register as a lobbyist, and donate a chunk of change to your representative (and a couple more, just to be safe)… it is probably the most you can do also.

you could create a grass-root PAC, but you will run the risk of getting sidetracked or derailed by maximalists.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re: May finally be legal to play DVDs on Linux

Interestingly enough, libaacs and libbluray already are present in Debian repos. I think they are different in a sense that they don’t actually break the DRM like libdvdcss does, but allow accessing the data if decryption keys are present (without keys they won’t really help). See

May be that’s the reason why Debian let them in, but not the libdvdcss, but I’m not sure 100%.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 May finally be legal to play DVDs on Linux

yes, this is correct.

Not all DVDs are encrypted. Distros can (and do) legally include player — and copying — software, just not the decryption software. So out of the box, you can play DVDs — just not the encrypted ones until you obtain and install the decryption software from elsewhere.

Shmerl says:

Re: Re: Re: May finally be legal to play DVDs on Linux

Actually libaacs and libbluray are already present in Debian repos. May be that’s because unlike libdvdcss they don’t actually break the encryption, but allow accessing the data if decryption keys are available, and without them they won’t really help. But I’m not sure 100%.


President of the Anti-Fandom Association says:


I am sick and disgraced of this legislation allowing cell phones to be jailbreaked. Not only that but they are trying to get this country on the Special 301 watch list.

Switching providers with the same cell phone is still illegal and it should remain illegal.

McCain’s bill and Lofgren’s bill violates ACTA, WIPO audiovisual treaty and the proposed TPP, TTIP (TAFTA) and WIPO Broadcast Treaty.

As for McCain’s bill, I am not happy he ain’t backing the broadcasters to close Aereo down, but to aid piracy with Aereo, that goes the same for lofgren. I urge the Senate to vote No on McCain’s bill and I urge the House to vote No on Lofgren’s bill. I also urge the House and Senate to revive SOPA, PIPA, and the CFSA (Commerical Felony Streaming Act) and make sure we lock those fandom nerds up for good. Fandom nerds need to get a real job and a real life. Artists, publishers, media and record companies need to end this right now.

I am a copyright maximalist and I’m proud of it. And the RIAA, MPAA, Copyright Alliance are so proud of me expressing against fandom garbage.

Our motto is written in the subject column above.

Wally (profile) says:

There is a reason.....

“manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof,”

If you ever heard of the Atari Games (Atari’s Arcade division) subsidiary Tengen….you will understand why that bit is (stupidly) in place. Although things got settled outside of court so we got to play great Atari Arcade ports on the NES….and a few extra golden gems as well (namely Skull And Crossbones).

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know about other agreements, but I did see once in a leaked ACTA text that any country wishing to leave ACTA would have to give at least 6 months notice.

So any repeal of the anti-circumvention laws would have to wait until at least 6 months for the United States to have legally dropped out of ACTA, since ACTA requires such anti-circumvention rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, whoop-de-freakin-do. How does this bill define “non-infringing”? Whether infringing or non-infringing, people break the anti-circumvention clause all the time anyway and what happens? Nothing. The whole anti-circumvention thing is pretty well unenforceable to begin with. If I want to back up my purchased DVDs or burn off rented DVDs (which I do), what’s to stop me? Again, nothing. I have anti-circumvention tools like DVDFab Decrypter and Any DVD on my computer and use them all the time. So this bill is just as meaningless to me as the DMCA.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...