|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] DMCA goes under public scrutiny again
DMCA goes under public scrutiny again
By Declan McCullagh
March 20, 2003, 12:03 PM PT
WASHINGTON--Fans and foes of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright
Act soon will have another chance to tell the U.S. government what they
The Library of Congress' Copyright Office said on Thursday that it will hold a
series of public hearings over the next two months in Washington, D.C. and
California to decide what changes, if any, should be made to the section of
the DMCA that restricts bypassing copy-protection schemes.
Anyone with strong feelings about the DMCA, one way or another, may submit a
request by Apr. 1 to testify during the public forums, the Copyright Office
said in its announcement. The hearing dates in the U.S. capital will be Apr.
11, Apr. 15 and May 2. The dates and locations in California have not been
The Copyright Office's announcement comes as criticism of the DMCA's
"anticircumvention" restrictions has grown. With a few exemptions, section
1201 generally bars people from circumventing a "technological measure that
effectively control access to a work," as well as creating or distributing
tools to do the same. Copyright holders, led by groups such as the Business
Software Alliance and the music and motion picture trade associations, have
lobbied to keep that part of the DMCA intact. Critics, however, say it
stifles legitimate research.
"I'm glad they're holding hearings," said Mike Godwin, technology counsel for
the Public Knowledge advocacy group. "This will present a chance for people
to show up and make their case and build a good record."
The hearings extend proceedings that started in November, when the Copyright
Office began accepting comments from the public. The last round of comments
was due on Feb. 20. During that round, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
digital civil liberties group, asked that it be legal to bypass DVD region
coding, skip ads on DVDs, and unlock copy-protected CDs.
When enacting the DMCA in 1998, Congress ordered the Copyright Office to
conduct regular reviews of one portion of section 1201 of the law. The
Librarian of Congress, who oversees the Copyright Office, may exempt specific
groups from being covered by that part of the DMCA.
In October 2000, two exemptions were set: Researchers into filtering could
study blacklisting techniques, and obsolete copy-protection schemes could be
legally bypassed. Those exemptions are set to expire in October 2003.
But that part of the DMCA includes two broad prohibitions--on bypassing
copy-protection technology and on distributing a program that bypasses that
technology--and the Librarian of Congress is permitted only to offer
exemptions to the former.
Because it won't affect researchers or companies that publish software code
that circumvents copy-protection technology, the practical impact of the
current proceeding may be limited. It probably would not have helped 2600
magazine, for instance, which the movie studios successfully sued for
distributing a DVD-descrambling utility.
"The Copyright Office stresses that factual arguments are at least as
important as legal arguments and encourages persons who wish to testify to
provide demonstrative evidence to supplement their testimony," Thursday's
announcement says. "While testimony from attorneys who can articulate legal
arguments in support of or opposition to a proposed exempted class of works
is useful, testimony from witnesses who can explain and demonstrate the facts
is also solicited."
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