Years of Copyright Office Failures in DMCA Exemption Process Result in Major Legal Challenge

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Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed suit against the Copyright Office and the Department of Justice, challenging the government’s enforcement of the technological controls imposed under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under this statute, the Librarian of Congress is charged with reviewing and granting exemptions when necessary to protect legitimate innovation, free expression, and other public interests. Among its other claims, EFF alleges that the Copyright Office -- which conducts this review on behalf of the Librarian -- has mismanaged the process and repeatedly failed to grant valid exemptions, in violation of the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The following can be attributed to Kerry Maeve Sheehan, Policy Fellow at Public Knowledge:

“This suit highlights fundamental failures by the Copyright Office in the DMCA exemption process. The Office has erected a litany of administrative barriers, not required by the law itself, to scholars, technologists, consumers, and many others ensnared by unintended consequences and indefensible applications of Section 1201. Even when the Copyright Office does recommend exemptions, they are often so narrow as to be practically useless. In light of the Copyright Office’s mismanagement, this constitutional challenge is hardly surprising.

“Since its passage in 1998, Section 1201 of the DMCA has wrought significant harm to innovation, free expression, and consumer protection. Its application to noninfringing fair uses of copyrighted material -- like moving personal media files from one device to another, or undertaking and publishing legitimate security research into how our cars or medical devices work -- stalls innovation, inhibits free expression, and hurts everyday consumers. We applaud EFF for shining the light on these failures.”

Public Knowledge has long worked towards reform of Section 1201 and its exemption process. Please view our anti-circumvention issue page for more information.

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