DMCA Challenges Dealt a Blow

In a move deemed by some as a blow to consumers, the U.S. Librarian of Congress denied requests for exceptions to digital copyright law Tuesday that would allow users greater flexibility with their media, such as fast-forwarding through currently unskippable DVD commercials.

The Librarian did grant other exceptions sought under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but the request for "fair use" exceptions were largely denied, according to San Francisco-based privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which lobbied for the changes.

In a statement released Tuesday, EFF Staff Attorney Gwen Hinze said the EFF was disappointed that the Librarian of Congress did not realize the impact the law is having on consumers' ability to "make reasonable uses" of the digital media they've purchased.

Fair Use

Consumer and civil liberty groups have long been rallying for changes to the DMCA, which they say curbs users' fair use rights to access, play, and move digital media that they own.

The law prohibits circumventing digital copyright protections, which media companies often include to prevent copyright infringement. However, opponents to the DMCA claim that the protections go too far, preventing users from, for example, playing CDs that they have purchased on more than one device, or from sharing DVDs and CDs with friends and family.

The EFF and others sought exception to the law that prohibits playing copy-protected audio CDs that prevent playback on some devices, viewing foreign-region coded DVDs on U.S. players, fast-forwarding through unskippable DVD commercials, and playing public-domain movies on DVDs. All of these requests were denied.

Exceptions Allowed

The Librarian did allow exceptions in four cases: for decoding lists of Web pages or directories blocked by Internet filtering software, accessing e-books for which the publisher has disabled the read-aloud function, circumventing obsolete digital rights management devices that prevent access due to malfunction, and accessing computer programs and video games distributed in an obsolete format.

In a statement, the Librarian of Congress said that the decision "is not a broad evaluation of the successes or failures of the DMCA. The purpose of the proceeding is to determine whether current technologies that control access to copyrighted works are diminishing the ability of individuals to use works in lawful, noninfringing ways."

The approved exemptions expire after three years, and then proponents must argue and win their case again with the Office of the Librarian of Congress.

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