The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the Librarian of Congress today to limit the legal barriers people face when they want to repair and modify software-enabled products, so that they—not manufacturers— control the appliances, computers, toys, vehicles, and other products they own.In comments filed in Washington D.C. today, EFF continued its years-long fight to enable owners and creators to repair, modify, and enhance products, or use snippets of films or songs, free of onerous threats that doing so somehow infringes companies' copyrights. Software-enabled devices and Internet-connected products and appliances are ubiquitous in modern life, and people aren't infringing anyone's copyright when, for example, they choose to permanently disable the embedded, on-all-the-time camera or microphone in their kids' toys, or send their car to their favorite mechanic, rather than high-priced dealerships, to be repaired.
“It’s absurd that a law intended to protect copyrighted works is misused instead to prevent people from taking apart or modifying the things they own, inhibit scientists and researches from investigating safety features or security enhancements, and block artists and educators from using snippets of film in noncommercial ways," said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. "The exemption process is one highly flawed way of alleviating that burden."
“We rely on the devices in our lives to learn and communicate, to keep us safe and get things done,” said EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh. “These devices should work for us and embody our preferences, not the commercial desires of their manufacturers. We, the users of these devices, should be able to decide how they affect our lives and how we can improve and adapt them. That’s how we ensure that technology enhances our freedoms rather than undermining them.”
This year EFF petitioned the Librarian to exempt from Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) all modifications and repairs of software-enabled devices that don’t infringe copyrights. It’s also seeking exemptions that will allow people to tinker with smart speakers and digital home assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home. EFF is also seeking one clear, easier-to-use exemption for video excerpts that would allow educators, libraries, documentary filmmakers, remix artists, and others to use video snippets without fear of legal repercussions by copyright owners. The Librarian implements the exemption recommendations of the Copyright Office.
“Our approach is simple: we are seeking to expand the types of activities that should be exempt from Section 1201 of the DMCA to encompass repairs, modifications, enhancements, and innovations that don’t infringe copyright,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “We shouldn’t have to seek exemptions for things copyright law already allows. Instead, there should be a general rule that allows people to circumvent digital locks to do any non-infringing activity.”
For EFF’s comments:
For more on the Section 1201 exemption process:
For more on the unintended consequences of Section 1201 of the DMCA: