Intellectual Property

They're Takin' Me Down to Huntsville, But I'm Not Gonna Stay

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A burst of sense from the Copyright Office:

Starring Number 6 as Number 2.

Federal regulators lifted a cloud of uncertainty when they announced it was lawful to hack or "jailbreak" an iPhone, declaring Monday there was "no basis for copyright law to assist Apple in protecting its restrictive business model."

Jailbreaking is hacking the phone's OS to allow consumers to run any app on the phone they choose, including applications not authorized by Apple.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation asked regulators 19 months ago to add jailbreaking to a list of explicit exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention provisions….

Monday's decision, (.pdf) which applies to all mobile phones, does not require Apple or other handset makers to allow jailbreaking. Instead it makes it lawful to circumvent controls designed to block jailbreaking.

That's not all the Copyright Office did. The Center for Social Media reports that now

college teachers of all kinds, university film and media studies students, documentary filmmakers, and makers of noncommercial videos can all break encryption on commercial DVDs to quote motion pictures, for the purpose of criticism and comment. Breaking encryption is the kind of thing you do with HandBrake and other software programs that let you copy material that the provider has digitally "locked." The DMCA makes illegal most breaking of encryption for any purpose; however, every three years the Copyright Office can grant exemptions for petitioners who suffer adverse effects from the law….

The rules are broader than many expected, but still involve strict restrictions. The exemption for use of motion pictures on DVD--which lumps together doc filmmakers, college teachers and film/media studies students and noncommercial video creators such as remixers--is limited only to criticism and commentary, not to all potential fair uses; the excerpt must be "relatively short"; a new work must be created; and the maker must have a reason why an inferior quality (such as one shot off a screen or from a VHS) is not good enough. The rule only applies to DVDs, not to all audio-visual material--for instance to video games or slideshows. But the Librarian made no quantitative restrictions, in fact refusing to define "relatively short," which means that makers can judge the length according to their critical or commentary needs; and the decision about whether high quality is necessary is left to the user.