DMCA exemptions make it legal to break DRM for repairs and interoperability

Posted 26 October 2018 17:46 CET by Jan Willem Aldershoff

The Copyright Office of the United States has added exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that will legalize many actions required to repair all kinds of devices. Thanks to the exemptions it’s now legal to jailbreak voice assistant devices, to unlock new smartphones and adapt software if required for repairs. Jailbreaking consoles and DVD/Blu-ray players remains illegal.

A petition to make it all possible called for the exemptions in Section 1201 in the DMCA.

“Simply stated, 1201 makes it illegal to ‘circumvent’ locks put on products by the manufacturer without permission,” IfixIt explains in a blog post. The website was one of the initiators of the petition which had the goal bypass all kinds of protections if that is required for repairs. They were joined by Repair.org, Cydia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Some of the requests were opposed by parties like the MPAA, RIAA, and the Auto Alliance. Nevertheless, IfixIt considers the added exemptions to Section 1201 in the DMCA as a win. With the exemptions in place, it’s now legal to jailbreak many devices and to remove or bypass restrictions that make devices inoperable.

Major points are that it’s now legal to jailbreak voice assistant devices, to unlock both new and used phones and to root and fix smartphones, home appliances or home systems. It’s now also legal to repair motorized land vehicles by modifying software and it has become legal to perform repairs on behalf of the owner.

Unfortunately there were also some negatives. It remains illegal to repair consoles, and products that are not explicitly mentioned in the “is now legal” part are all excluded. A request to make it legal to bypass the HDCP copy protection was also denied.

Especially for console repairs there are still some considerably negatives. Because the optical drives of the Xbox and Playstation are cryptographically  programmed in the factory it’s not possible to easily e.g. swap a broken drive with another one. Also, jailbreaking of consoles remains illegal, just as jailbreaking of set top boxes and DVD/Blu-ray players.

IfixIt concludes its blog stating it’s happy with the exemptions to the DMCA but that there’s still a lot to win.


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