US Govt: DRM Circumvention Legal When Repairing Devices

The United States Library of Congress and the Copyright Office recently deemed that circumventing digital rights management (DRM) tools can be legal during the repair of electronic devices, says PC Gamer. The new addition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) states that repairpersons are legally allowed to hack firmware on smartphones, tablets, mobile computers and other similar devices.

US Govt: DRM Circumvention Legal When Repairing Devices

DRMs and TPMs are a type of digital locking measures that aim to protect the intellectual property rights of the owner. The newly added GMCA provisions state that bypassing these measures can only be done with the goal of repairing a device or a system.

However, circumventing DRM schemes is allowed when technological protection measures (TPMs) hinder the consumer’s use of a functioning product. Situations that allow this type of bypass include the diagnosis, maintenance and repair of the product.

Broader exemptions

Aside from being allowed to hack devices or systems for repair, repairpersons are also legally allowed to bypass protection on programs that operate on ‘lawfully acquired’ devices or machines. They can also undertake circumvention on computers, systems or networks on which the program operates.

This should be done with permission from owners or operators. Moreover, the circumvention must be done in ‘good faith’ for security research, without violating pertinent laws in place.

With regards to games, the bypass is legal when copyright owners or their representatives have stopped giving access to external servers needed to make gameplay possible. In such cases, copying or modifying the program for personal and local gameplay is allowed.

The Caveat

These new policies are effective for a vast range of devices, programs and systems. However, the new provisions cannot stop manufacturers from embedding ‘devious’ anti-repair schemes, reports PC Gamer. Apple’s kill switch is an example of this. The tech giant has incorporated a mechanism that stops products from functioning if the device is opened or fixed by unauthorized repair shops.

Apple has also figured in a case in which it was sued for allegedly harming consumers after placing extra security measures on iPods and iTunes acquired between September 2006 and March 2009. The company was deemed not liable for the case.

While DRM circumvention is legal for certain situations, bypassing these digital locks for purposes other than repair remains illegal. This means that circumventing these locks to access and distribute protected content remain to be illegal and its considered piracy.