Project Launched To Fix The Anti-Circumvention Clause Of The DMCA

from the fix-it-now dept

While we were certainly happy that the White House came out in favor of allowing mobile phone unlocking, we were dismayed that they said the fix was to apply a narrow change to telco law. That's bizarre, because the whole problem came out of copyright law -- specifically the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause, 17 USC 1201. We've long argued that the anti-circumvention clause was a huge problem. It makes any attempt at circumvention of DRM or other "technical protection measures" illegal, even if the content being unlocked would not violate copyright law. That's really incredible when you think about it. Bypassing DRM on public domain material, for example, would still be considered infringing under 1201. Yikes!

So it's great to see a new campaign kick off, called FixTheDMCA.org, entirely focused on the problem of Section 1201.

While many in the tech community like to complain about the entire DMCA, it's important to remember that some of the DMCA was actually quite good: setting up things like clearly defined safe harbors that separate platforms and services from the actions of their users was a necessary step in creating the web that we know and love today. The problems with the DMCA are with both section 1201 and with the notice and takedown provisions (shoot first, confirm later), and both of those should be fixed. So it's good to see this effort under way, specifically targeted at the anti-circumvention clause.

Unfortunately, this may be the hardest part of the DMCA to fix. For reasons that still aren't entirely clear to me, Hollywood is obsessed with anti-circumvention clauses. They demand them in every new copyright law being put in place around the globe. It's the one part of Canada's new copyright law that was most troubling. Anywhere you see new copyright laws popping up, you're almost certain to see anti-circumvention clauses. It's one of those things that the entertainment industry insists on, and simply won't budge over. I still don't understand why they're so insistent on it, since it really seems to only harm legitimate buyers, and do next to nothing to stop actual infringement.

Hopefully, as people realize that Section 1201 leads to ridiculous situations like not being able to unlock your mobile phone, we can start to get Congress to recognize that the anti-circumvention clauses are a problem that needs fixing, and a site like FixtheDMCA is a good place to start.

Filed Under: 1201, anti-circumvention, copyright, dmca, exemptions, fix the dmca


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  1. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 11 Mar 2013 @ 12:06pm

    No such thing as a safe harbor

    While many in the tech community like to complain about the entire DMCA, it's important to remember that some of the DMCA was actually quite good: setting up things like clearly defined safe harbors that separate platforms and services from the actions of their users was a necessary step in creating the web that we know and love today.


    Please don't perpetuate that lie. The DMCA, and especially the "safe harbor" provision, did nothing to encourage the growth of the Internet. The "Safe Harbor" provision is an Orwellian mis-naming if there ever was one, as it does nothing good for the Internet; all it does is expose sites and service providers to greater restrictions and greater liability in return for a promise of safety that, as we see with the Megaupload case, isn't worth the paper it's printed on if the bad guys really want to make you stop causing trouble.

    If there had been no Safe Harbor, at some point someone would have sued some website over hosting infringing content. They would have replied with a defense that they operate under Common Carrier doctrine, and have zero liability to do anything whatsoever about the data they handle, and so the plaintiffs can go screw themselves. And they would have won, and it would have set a precedent. (And it would have done so back before the rise of wireless devices and cable modems consolidated power in the hands of companies that don't want to operate as common carriers, so today the network neutrality problems they're causing for us would never have come along in the first place.)

    The DMCA took that away from us, and between the "Safe Harbor" and the legitimization of DRM, directly set up every bit of copyright abuse that's been used against the Internet ever since. There is nothing good about the DMCA, and it needs to be repealed in its entirety.

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