Jailbreak: New gov't rules allow antipiracy workarounds

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Jailbreak: New gov't rules allow antipiracy workarounds

Mon Jul 26, 2010 @ 02:44PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

The U.S. Copyright Office has cleared the way for individuals to break antipiracy measures on DVDs, video games, e-books and other digital media for several "fair use" purposes.

Every three years, per a Congressional mandate, advocates have the opportunity to petition the government for exemptions to the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This time, the copyright office has decided to grant some very ambitious proposals. 

Perhaps most controversially, users can manipulate their mobile handheld devices to achieve interoperability and install third-party software in an activity commonly known as "jailbreaking." 

When the "jailbreaking" proposal was first made, Apple kicked up quite a fuss, saying it would "destroy the technological protection of Apple's key copyrighted computer programs" on the iPhone and predicting such an exemption would lead to rampant piracy and hackers taking down phone networks.

In response, critics contended that the computer giant was merely looking to protect its authority over the iTunes App store and its place as the central guardian of digital media copyrights.

"The harm that Apple fears is harm to its reputation," wrote Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights, in rejecting Apple's challenge and granting the exemption.

The Copyright Office has made other sweeping changes in its decision, including allowing documentarians and educators to break encryption on DVDs for the purpose of criticism and comment.

During hearings, representatives from the MPAA argued that allowing an exemption to break CSS encryption wasn't necessary. The industry argued there were less intrusive ways for documentarians and educators to gain access to clips.

Advocates for nonfiction filmmakers are nevertheless cheering today's decision.

"This is a great day for documentary filmmakers who have suffered under the threat of criminal prosecution for activities that otherwise are completely, 100% legal," says Michael Donaldson, an attorney who has advised documentary producers and directors.

Other exemptions granted today include allowing users to crack e-book DRM to create "text-to-voice" apps. 

Not every proposal was successful, however.

The Copyright Office turned down one that would have let users crack DRM on purchased music in instances where a digital vendor had gone dark. It rejected another that would have allowed streaming video to be watched on unsupported platforms.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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