A few weeks ago I discussed the need for a DMCA exemption for e-books, in light of the US Copyright Office requesting petitions for such exemptions. The Copyright Office has now posted all 44 petitions it received as PDFs. There are a number of interesting petitions there—not least of them my own.

Now that I read my petition again, I see a few typos and other tweaks I wish I could go back and fix (and they miscategorized it under “Audiovisual Works – Multimedia E-Books,” rather than “Literature Distributed Electronically”), but on the whole I’m satisfied with it. It says what needs to be said.

I was mildly disappointed to see that my petition is the only one which directly addressed the matter of bypassing e-book DRM for personal fair use and backup—or at least, the only one that follows the Copyright Office’s template. There are a few other letters from individual citizens bringing up these issues that were heartfelt, but not especially coherent.

There are petitions from the American Foundation for the Blind and the Library Copyright Alliance asking for an extension of the exemption granted at the last rulemaking, to allow bypassing e-book DRM to assist the blind. The way these exemptions work is that they have to be requested over and over, and even if they’re granted at one rulemaking there’s no guarantee they will again be granted at the next.

The new author advocacy group Authors Alliance (whom we first mentioned a few months ago) has a petition in as well. It starts off promisingly enough, with Authors Alliance saying it “promotes authorship for the public good by supporting authors who write to be read.” (As opposed to those who write and then stick it under their mattress, I suppose.) But then it veers off into serious what-the-heck territory by requesting the right to break DRM on movie discs and Internet streams in order to “[permit] authors to make fair use of excerpts of motion pictures embedded in multimedia e-books they create.”

I mean, sure, I can see people creating multimedia e-books wanting to be able to include video clips in them, and from my point of view of the-less-copyright-the-better I can certainly agree with it in principle—but who actually even cares about multimedia e-books? We’ve carried story after story after story showing how badly they flop in the marketplace, because nobody wants them.

After all that rhetoric about “representing the interests of authors who want to make their works more widely available” the only petition they submit addresses the interests of a vanishingly small fraction of e-book creators whose works are desired by an even more vanishingly small (to nonexistent) fraction of the e-book marketplace? Rather than something that could actually help authors make their works more available by allowing people to port them to other devices and platforms? Come on!

It’s not as if they needed to limit themselves to just one. Several other parties, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and the aforementioned Library Copyright Alliance, submitted more than one letter, addressing various different issues. But none of the petitions besides the above have much to do with e-books.

The most common issue seems to concern unlocking mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, and portable Wi-Fi hotspots. This is not surprising, given that the recent Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act specifically required the copyright register to consider such proposals, and so they specifically asked for them.

A couple of industry groups including the Competitive Carriers Association and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries have several petitions each addressing different facets of such devices. (There are a couple concerning rooting/jailbreaking tablets to run alternative operating systems.) There are also several petitions concerning breaking motion picture DRM to make fair use of the media thereon—be it commentary and criticism, educational use, documentary filmmaking, remixes, or just space-shifting. (There’s even one fellow who asks that breaking DRM be allowed for DVD playback on Linux. I sympathize, but am not holding my breath.)

There are petitions asking for exemptions for security research, including research on medical device security flaws and vehicle software safety, as without them security researchers are concerned they could be prosecuted for their research. There are petitions concerning video game console interoperability and alternative operating systems, and abandonware video games. Public Knowledge has one concerning 3D printing interoperability.

There are also three separate petitions asking for the right to crack the DRM on PARIS, a music recording software suite that has effectively been abandoned by its manufacturer, who is soon going to stop providing new DRM keys for it.

What can we take away from all this? That the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. All these uses that people are asking to be able to make used to be perfectly legal. They’d still be legal, if not for that pesky law and a pesky little digital padlock it’s illegal to break. Maybe someday that portion of the law could be repealed outright…or maybe publishers will follow the music industry’s example and drop DRM. But as I said earlier, I’m not holding my breath.

What’s the next step? The Copyright Office says:

After receiving petitions for proposed exemptions, the Office will consider the petitions, group and/or consolidate related and overlapping proposals, and issue a notice of proposed rulemaking setting forth the list of proposed exemptions for further consideration. The notice of proposed rulemaking will invite full legal and evidentiary submissions and provide further guidance as to the types of evidence that may be expected or useful vis-à-vis particular proposals, with the aim of producing a well-developed administrative record.

The Copyright Office site does not provide a timeline for when this might happen. I am hopeful my petition will make it through to the proposed rulemaking stage, at which point organizations will be able to submit evidence in support of it. I would hope that even those advocacy groups who didn’t petition for it will nonetheless support the proposal to allow unlocking e-books for fair use, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.


  1. Great post. I am interested to see whether this will happen or not. In 2003, the exemption for ebooks was entered and made it to hearing. In 2010 some progress was made but not where it can do the most good. More progressive changes must be made wrt to ebooks.

    There is a device for copying hardcover books – legally of course.
    This is called the BookLiberator. I totally support that project coming out of QuestionCopyright.org.

    The book liberator can scan something like 600-900 pages per hour. This uses completely free software and is a great idea for the progression of the arts and sciences.

    Of course, I am always interested in content sharing and the ability for us to access information because despite funny or cute little titles – Information does want to be free.


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