Good News for Maker Projects: Library of Congress Adopts New DRM Copyright Rules

LoC Great Hall

Over on the TechSoup blog, I just did a profile of iFixit's Kyle Wiens, who won the 2015 refurbishment lifetime achievement award. One of his recent accomplishments was to successfully advocate for exemptions to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Many of the exemptions free up device owners' rights to repair or alter their electronics devices. There are a number of new digital rights management (DRM) changes that affect libraries.

Every three years the U.S. Copyright Office department of the Library of Congress devises adjustments to the DMCA. The DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) copy protections. It does things like prevent the copying of movie DVDs and music CDs, or the jailbreaking (rigging) of a game player so that it runs unlicensed games.

Protesting DRM

New Rules That Could Affect Libraries

  • It is now permissible to alter e-books to enable assistive technologies, such as text-to-speech functionality in e-books.
  • Medical device owners may also now circumvent DRM protections to view the data generated by their own device.
  • It is now legal to unlock phones, tablets, mobile connectivity devices (like hotspots), and wearables such as smartwatches so users can choose whatever data carrier they want.
  • Owners can now jailbreak mobile devices — so you can install whatever software you want on your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, dedicated e-readers like the Kindle Paper are not included in this exemption.
  • Exemptions for circumventing DRM on DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and online streaming services have increased. People can take clips of audiovisual works for use in documentary filmmaking, noncommercial videos, and nonfiction multimedia e-books offering film analysis. It is also OK to circumvent DRM using screen-capture technology to allow playback for educational purposes in K-12 schools, colleges, universities, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and nonprofit digital and media literacy programs.
  • It is also legal now to modify video game consoles requiring connection to servers that have been abandoned. Modified consoles are only to be used for noncommercial purposes in institutions that are open to the public like libraries and museums.
  • Users, including libraries, can modify the software on 3D printers for the purposes of using alternative feedstock. This rule change won't go into effect until October 28, 2016, though. Another catch is that the owner has to do the modification — not a repair shop.

Check out Kyle's piece about the right-to-repair gains that are in place for the next three years.

How New DRM Copyright Rules Tie in to the Maker Movement

iFixit LogoMany libraries these days are creating makerspaces in which patrons are invited in to learn how to make or repair things, especially electronics. A great example is the Makerstate Initiative in New Mexico. These programs are popular with patrons, especially children in these days of STEM education emphasis.

Many of the new DRM copyright rules are geared to users doing their own repairs or modifications on their own devices. iFixit is an incredible resource for this. Here is some of what it offers:

More than 17,000 free repair guides. These have empowered over 15 million people to repair their broken devices.

iFixit also promotes the repair café movement that started in Europe, but is now gaining traction in the U.S. Repair cafés are informal meetings in which owners of broken devices get the help they need to fix their devices from experienced repairers. Find a listing of them here, and find a toolkit on starting one in your library here.

iFixit's Kyle Wiens is doing some great work in advancing our right to repair, and he's someone I'm proud to know. I hope your library finds the iFixit resources useful. They are remarkably good and mostly free.

Image 1: Carol Highsmith / CC: 0

Image 2: Karen Rustad / CC: BY