02:00 AM Oct. 07, 2005 PT
If there's some digital media you'd like to see cracked -- a copy-protected DVD, say -- then now's the time to tell the U.S. Copyright Office. ( http://www.copyright.gov)
The Copyright Office is conducting a periodic review of anti-cracking provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and is seeking submissions from the public.
In the last review, the office allowed the cracking of web-filtering technology to see what sites are filtered out; bypassing copy protection on computer programs or video games available only in obsolete formats; cracking ebook copy-protection to allow the blind to use read-aloud software; and cracking computer programs protected by hardware devices, or "dongles," that are malfunctioning.
The copyright office will take written comments from interested parties through Dec. 1, addressing what copyright works should be exempted from the law's anti-cracking provisions. Following the initial comment period, the office will accept rebuttals until Feb. 2 and then hold two sets of hearings beginning in April.
The DMCA forbids cracking of copy-protected or encrypted digital media, with certain exceptions. When the law was passed, Congress mandated the register of copyrights revisit the anti-circumvention section every three years to make sure consumers have proper access to materials they purchased -- even if content creators have them locked down.
If the copyright office finds instances where copy protection prevents fair use of the work, then those copy protections can be legally circumvented.
"I suspect that we will hear shortly from people who feel they have not been able to use copyrighted materials because of the DMCA," said Ralph Oman, an intellectual property attorney and former register of copyrights.
The exemptions are designed, in part, to keep up with advances in technology, so people whose requests have been denied in the past can seek reconsideration.
However, the office is fairly circumspect in granting exceptions.
In the past, the office has rejected requests to circumvent copy protection technology on CDs, DVDs and video games; challenges to the encryption of garage-door openers; and attempts to bypass the encryption of Lexmark printer cartridges that prevented their reloading with another manufacturer's toner (an issue since decided in favor of challenger Static Controls in the courts).
"The copyright office has been consistent in making the burden pretty heavy on the person seeking the exemption," said Fred von Lohmann, senior intellectual-property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.