Section 1201 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) prevents unlocking of digital devices. While Section 1201 was intended to protect copyright, there have been many unintended consequences.
The issue that has been at the forefront of the 1201 reform debate is cell phone unlocking. Consumers should be able to choose to switch their mobile phones to a different carrier when their contract runs out. However, Section 1201 prevented this. The software on a cellphone is considered a copyrighted work, meaning consumers couldn’t unlock their phones in order to switch their phones to a different carrier.
President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act into law in August 2014, following unanimous support from the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill allows consumers to “unlock” their cell phones so they can take a phone with them from one service provider to another.
However, the problem doesn’t stop there. From installing software on e-books to repairing farm equipment to identifying security threats, many legal activities are still prevented through digital locks.
Fortunately, every three years, the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office are required to grant exemptions to this law for cases where the law is interfering with otherwise legal and beneficial activities. They hold a triennial review to determine which exemptions to grant, and anyone can submit exemption requests.
What PK Is Doing…
Public Knowledge is working to revise the DCMA to stop unreasonable anticircumvention.
In November 2014, Public Knowledge submitted requests for two exemptions for the triennial review. One of those exemptions was to allow people to rip their own DVDs to be able to watch the movies they own on other devices. The other was to allow people to use whatever materials they wanted in their 3D printers, even if the printer manufacturer tried to limit the printer to using only approved materials.
In February 2015, Public Knowledge filed comments in support of both the DVD ripping exemption and the 3D printing exemption. We also filed comments in support of an exemption that would allow people with implanted medical devices to access the data those devices are collecting. Additionally, we filed a copy of these comments in the docket for every single exemption. These comments raise questions about the Copyright Office’s proceeding more generally, and apply to all of the exemption requests. In March, comments were submitted to the Copyright Office by those who oppose specific exemptions. The Library of Congress released their decisions in November 2015.
While many exemptions were granted, the process itself is broken. In less than three years, advocates for blind readers, medical device patients, and 3D printer users will need to present their findings before the Copyright Office again, and engage in these same debates again, and wait to see if their exemptions are granted again. These are just a few of the burdensome and unnecessary locks that consumers should be able to circumvent.
To learn more:
See what consumer advocates are saying about DMCA reform here.
Check out Kathleen Burke’s piece, “COVID-19 Highlights Why IP Shouldn’t Limit the Right to Repair.”
Contact your representative in Congress here to tell them it’s time to revise Section 1201 of the DMCA.
Here are the PK experts on this issue: