Copyright Office Grants Exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Monday was a happy day for smartphone owners and application developers. The Copyright Office ruled that breaking through a digital security system to access software is "fair use" and doesn't affect the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998.

The decision was part of a group of DMCA exceptions the Copyright Office, a unit of the Library of Congress, announced Monday. Every three years, the Copyright Office reviews the DMCA and releases its opinions on how it should be interpreted based on changing technology.

The most striking exception this year was the stance on jail breaking--the process of unlocking an operating system--smartphones.

"Persons who circumvent access controls in order to engage in noninfringing uses of works in these six classes will not be subject to the statutory prohibition against circumvention," the Library of Congress said in a statement.

Tech-savvy smartphone users can now choose what software to put on their phone. Cydia is the most commonly added software application because of its user-friendly/easy to use interface that allows users to access themes and apps unavailable through Apple's app store. It's become a game of mix and match, aligning the consumer's preferred software with the preferred phone. The ruling also allows users to choose their wireless service provider. For Apple's iPhone, for example, AT&T was previously the only available wireless service provider in the U.S.

The announcement is being touted as a triumph for fair use, the principle of copyright law that allows for the limited use of copyrighted material. The decision renders Apple unable to prosecute those who jail break. However, jail breaking still violates Apple's software license agreement. Therefore, Apple will have no warrantee responsibility to those consumers who break their phones in the process.

Coinciding with the Copyright Office's exception, the 5th Circuit ruled that circumventing Digital Rights Management is not illegal unless the aim is to break copyright law.

Read our article on the proposed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement's stance on copyright circumvention.

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