Unlocking Game Systems, Tablets, DVD Rips All Violate DMCA, Copyright Office Says

By Joseph Mandour on October 26, 2012

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Los Angeles – The Digital Millennium Copyright Act prohibits ripping DVDs onto other devices and modifying tablets and video game consoles for purposes not intended by their makers, but does not bar consumers from copying DVD clips for fair use, the U.S. Copyright Office said Thursday in its latest update to its guidance on the law.

The Copyright Office officially threw out proposals from digital rights groups to make exceptions in the DMCA for those activities as part of its review of the law, which happens every three years.

In this year’s update, published on Thursday, the office also ruled that DVD owners may use software to get around digital rights management protection mechanisms if they are simply intending to use portions of the copyrighted content for commentary, criticism or education.

The office issued an exemption permitting the circumvention of computer programs on mobile phones to enable interoperability of non-vendor-approved software applications, often referred to as “jailbreaking.” It did not, however, extend the exemption to tablets, as had been requested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla Corp. and others, saying the record did not support it.

The statutory factors weighed in favor of a renewed exemption for smartphones, as nothing in the record suggested that the market for mobile phones had been negatively impacted by the designation of an exempt class, the Copyright Office said. In fact, such a class might make smartphones more attractive to consumers, it said.

The office found significant merit to the industry opposition’s concerns that the tablet aspect of the proposed class was broad and ill-defined, as a wide range of devices might be considered “tablets,” notwithstanding the significant distinctions among them. An ebook reading device might be considered a “tablet,” as might a handheld video game device or a laptop computer, the office said.

The Copyright Office issued a series of exemptions to the circumvention of motion pictures contained on DVDs and delivered through online services to permit the use of short portions for purposes of criticism and comment. The excerpts might be used in noncommercial videos, documentary films, nonfiction multimedia ebooks offering film analysis, and for certain educational uses, it said.

It also permitted the use of screen capture technology to the extent an exemption is necessary under the law. The exemptions do not apply to the use of motion picture excerpts in fictional films, though, the office said.

The office declined to issue any exemption from the law for the modification of video game systems, citing industry concerns about piracy, among other issues.

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