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Feds grant DMCA exceptions

The Library of Congress creates four narrow exemptions to a controversial digital-piracy statute but faces criticism from free-speech activists, who had hoped for more exceptions.

The Library of Congress created on Tuesday four narrow exemptions to a controversial digital-piracy statute but faces criticism from free-speech activists, who had hoped for more exceptions.

As part of a regular process of reviewing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, regulators created four new instances in which it is legal to crack digital copyright protections. Such protections can now be broken to access:

• Lists of sites blocked by commercial Internet filtering software, but not spam-fighting lists.

• Computer programs protected by hardware dongles that are broken or obsolete.

• Computer programs or video games that use obsolete formats or hardware.

• E-books that prevent read-aloud or other handicapped access formats from functioning.

Some DMCA critics had asked for far more sweeping exemptions, such as the ability to break through copy or usage restrictions on DVDs and CDs in order to use the content in different devices and mediums.

"It's disappointing that the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian (of Congress) continue to relinquish their power to protect the rights of American consumers to lawfully use their own property," said Robin Gross, executive director of IP Justice, a digital rights activist group.

In a statement accompanying the ruling, Librarian of Congress James Billington said that he did not have the power to go as far as critics wanted and that many of the most expansive proposals for exemptions had been put forward by people who misunderstood the law.

Some participants "sought exemptions that would permit them to circumvent access controls on all works when they are engaging in particular noninfringing uses of those works," Billington wrote in his statement. "The law does not give me that power."

The exemptions will be in effect for three years, after which time regulators will examine the law again.