Librarian of Congress Allows DRM Circumvention to Preserve Old Video Games, Modify Vehicles and More

Published: October 27, 2015 10:24 PM /


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In response to draconian laws that forbid DRM circumvention, the EFF petitioned the Librarian of Congress to allow certain exemptions for fair use and non copyright infringing purposes. The Librarian of Congress has granted much of what they requested. While this is a moderate victory, not everything the EFF desired was granted. A major point is that these exemptions only apply to the end users doing the circumvention, but it will not protect those who create and distribute tools that allow DRM circumvention. The EFF has also raised concerns about the rulemaking process itself. Notably, even if an exemption has been granted it must be reargued and approved every 3 years.

The Librarian of Congress had decided to allow DRM circumvention so that users can modify and improve their vehicles. This is something which has been legal for over a century, but the copyright protections on the software that runs in most vehicles has called it into question. This exemptions ensures car owners can continue to tinker with their vehicles as they have always done in the past. The new rules also allow exemptions for the purpose of security research which applies not only to vehicle but many other devices as well. This will ensure that DRM does not stand in the way of valuable research to improve security measures.

Another new exemption allows gamers to modify their games so that they no longer require an authentication server once the server has been shut down. This will allow the preservation of beloved games which have been abandoned by their developers. However, this exemption only applies to games which are completely unplayable without an authentication server. For games that will lose certain online features but remain playable to some extent, this rule will not provide an exemption to allow DRM circumvention.

The Librarian has extended an existing exemption that allows users to jailbreak their phones and run any software the user wishes, as well extending the exemption to cover other portable devices such as tablets and smart watches. This removes an arbitrary legal distinction that allowed the jailbreaking of phones but not tablets in the previous version of the rules. The Librarian has also extended the existing rules allowing the circumvention of DRM on DVDs for the purposes of creating fair use remix videos, as well as expanded the rules to include Blu-Ray.

Despite some successes in expanding the scope of lawful DRM circumvention, the EFF believes there are better solutions than the existing rulemaking process. They believe reforms in the law are needed so that DRM circumvention is only illegal if done for infringing purposes not those which are protected by fair use.

Are these new exemptions to DRM circumvention adequate, or is more reform needed? Leave your comments below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.