New DMCA exemptions take effect

Starting on Monday, it's officially legal to "unlock" your cell phone's firmware if you're hoping to switch carriers while continuing to use the same device. It's also lawful for security researchers to bypass copy protection on music discs in order to test for flaws or vulnerabilities--a la last November's Sony rootkit fiasco.

Those developments were among the six three-year exemptions just added to a controversial 1998 digital copyright law, according to a notice posted recently by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Federal law requires the Copyright Office to gather public comment periodically on whether any new amendments to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are necessary. Section 1201 of the law broadly restricts circumventing "a technological measure that effectively controls access" to a copyrighted work.

This year's rulemaking marks the largest number of DMCA exemptions since the Copyright Office began that triennial exercise in 2000. (Three of the 2006 amendments, which allow users to get around "obsolete" and e-book copy-protection schemes in certain cases, are nearly identical to those granted in 2003.)

Another new exemption allows media studies or film professors to circumvent copy-protection on audiovisual works, but only if they're compiling portions of those works for educational use. Advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation voiced disappointment that copyright officials didn't extend circumvention rights to consumers hoping to make back-up copies of their DVDs.

Under the new rules, researchers who uncovered a security flaw lurking in anticopying technology on some Sony BMG Music Entertainment CDs arguably landed the legal shield they had sought, but nothing more.

The exemption covers only "sound recordings, and audiovisual works associated with those sound recordings, distributed in compact disc format and protected by technological protection measures that control access to lawfully purchased works and create or exploit security flaws or vulnerabilities that compromise the security of personal computers."

 

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