Government Expands Fair Use: Your New Freedoms

Make way for "jailbreaking" phones and ripping DVDs

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Technology bloggers and fair-use advocates are celebrating a federal ruling that gives individuals more freedom to manipulate copyrighted material and modify consumer products. On Monday, the U.S. Librarian of Congress ruled that "jailbreaking" smartphones and ripping DVDs for non-commercial purposes was legal. The ruling chipped away at the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which previously prohibited such activities. While a number of bloggers are explaining why this shift is crucial for the flourishing of creative behavior on the Internet, others are busy describing what this ruling allows individuals to do. First off, here are your new Internet freedoms:

  • Jailbreaking Your Phone  Nate Anderson at Ars Technica cheers: "The most surprising ruling was on 'jailbreaking' one's phone (exemption number two), replacing the company-provided operating system with a hacked version that has fewer limitations." Now iPhone customers can run applications on their phone that aren't authorized by Apple. John Brownlee at Cult of Mac adds, "In other words, it is now okay to jailbreak your iPhone to run legally acquired software (for example, through Cydia) and to unlock your iPhone to run on another network."
  • Ripping DVDs  Janko Roettgers at New TeeVee explains: "Up until now, filmmakers were actually breaking the law when ripping DVDs to get footage because the act of ripping entails circumventing copy-protection measures.  However, under the new rules, it’s legal to circumvent such measures if you’re a documentary filmmaker or if you intend to use the material for “noncommercial videos.”
  • 3 More Freedoms  Sam Biddle at Gizmodo explains: "The fourth exemption is narrower than the first three, granting the right to crack video or computer game DRM (such as SecuROM) for the purposes of research or 'investigation.' The language here is broad enough to give a little wiggle room (after all, anyone who's curious can investigate).The fifth exemption is less exciting still, allowing you to bypass software protected by a hardware dongle that is either broken or no longer manufactured.Finally, the sixth exemption will let you crack the DRM on encrypted eBooks to have the text read aloud, even if this function is explicitly prohibited by copy protection. This is great news for the blind and otherwise visually impaired."
  • Why This Is Important  Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read Write Web explains: "A whole lot of value these days is created by mashing up content from disparate sources and adding a dollop of originality on top. It's cheap, it's fast and it can be very effective. The world needs more of it. Legal decisions, like today's, need to be made to facilitate more of it.
  • It Gives Consumers More Options, writes Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing: "These are major blows against the tradition in US law of protecting DRM, even when DRM wasn't upholding copyright. For example, Apple argued in its Copyright Office filing that it should be illegal under copyright law to install iPhone software unless Apple had approved and supplied it (akin to the principle that you should only be allowed company-approved bread in your toaster, or Folgers-approved milk in your instant coffee)."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.