The headlines read “Jailbreak for iPhone” following an announcement by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington on the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) Section 1201 rules for exemptions regarding circumvention of access-control technologies. So what exactly does that mean?
DMCA is an addition to the existing Copyright Act of 1976, intended to deal with the rise of digital media and mass online proliferation. The act has made bypassing digital-rights management for personal or educational consumption illegal. This could mean copying DVDs or MP3s, or in the case of the iPhone, being able to download applications and software not authorized by Apple.
Every three years, Section 1201 requires the Librarian to determine whether there are any classes of works that will be subject to exemptions from the statute’s prohibition. This is the fourth time the Librarian has made such a determination – this time designating six classes of works.
The six exemptions allow cell-phone users to unlock their mobile devices to run applications not approved by phone manufacturers – a practice commonly known as “jailbreaking” – and to break access controls on their phones in order to switch wireless carriers; allow gamers to break technical protections on video games to investigate or correct security flaws; allow college professors, film students and documentary filmmakers to break copy-protection measures on DVDs so they can embed clips for educational purposes, criticism or commentary and noncommercial videos; allow computer owners to bypass the need for external security devices called “dongles” if the dongle no longer works and cannot be replaced; and allow blind people to break locks on electronic books so that they can use them with read-aloud software or similar aids.
Learn more about copyright at the U.S. Copyright Office. A good place to start is with the Frequently Asked Questions, which will lead to the proper forms to use to register a copyright, tell what copyright protects and provide information on the mandatory-deposit requirement.