A small ray of light has shone through the draconian Hollywood-backed DMCA, or Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
The Library of Congress has the job of looking at rulemaking, or how the Act is interpreted, and it has identified four areas where copyright circumvention has legitimate, non-infringing applications. The DMCA criminalises circumvention of protected copyright digital material. But thanks in part to campaigner Seth Finkelstein, the oversight body has decided that for the next three years, bypassing access control in these areas won't result in a breach of the DMCA.
And these are: censorware blacklists; computer software protected by dongles which are obsolete or that don't work; computer software copy-protected by a media that is obsolete (including old games); and e-books that stop deaf or partially sighted readers from turning on the read aloud or large print options.
Not all of these are new categories, the LoC says, but they are needed for archivists and the disabled.
Campaigners needed to demonstrate "that the prohibition has a substantial adverse effect on noninfringing uses of a particular class of works".
That meant arguments justifying broad changes in the law were beyond the scope of the Librarian.
Nevertheless, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had argued that the Library of Congress permit circumvention of DVD regional coding, copy-protected music CDs and the DVD copy protection system, CSS. This was never going to happen, and the EFF issued one of its more moot press releases yesterday bemoaning the fact.
However, both the original DMCA and the state-centric "super DMCAs" have sailed onto the statute books without adequate lobbying in DC, without the public being aware of the implications and, in the case of the super DMCAs, without the EFF even noticing.
The EFF renewed its call for "legislative reform" of the DMCA yesterday. But San Francisco, where the EFF is based, is a long way from the dogfights of Washington DC; the EFF lacks the funds or the philosophical inclination to fight a populist campaign that would remind Senators of their obligations; and key outreach staff are permanently absent on blogging duty.
With so many good folk keeping themselves so far from the battlefield, it's hard to see how the next round of legislation is going to be anything but worse than what we have now. The ruthless entertainment industry, whose lobbyists effectively wrote the DMCA, have no such qualms. ®