The US Library of Congress today issued a set of exemptions to an infamous provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), establishing a victory for consumers who like to tinker with devices without running afoul of copyright law. The exemptions were far-reaching, extending from movie and television files used in an educational context for criticism to installing third-party software — in other words jailbreaking — tablets and smart TVs. They will however only last for three years.
The Library of Congress meets around every 36 months to decide new exemptions and re-establish previous exemptions to the DMCA's 1201 provision. That provision has made it illegal in the past to unlock your smartphone from its carrier or even to share your HBO Go password with a friend. It's designed to let corporations protect copyrighted material, but it allows them to crackdown on circumventions even when they're not infringing on those copyrights or trying to access or steal proprietary information.
Go ahead, jailbreak your tablet or smart TV
The exemptions, though they only last three years, are designed to remedy that. Yet regulators tend to leave out devices, like in 2012 when the group approved jailbreaking for smartphones but not tablets. This year the Library of Congress got together and established a handful of now well-known exemptions — like the ability to unlock your smartphone from its carrier — and a slew of new ones covering a range of devices.
You can continue to unlock your smartphone and tablet, and the same now goes for Wi-Fi hotspots and wearable devices with cellular connections. As for jailbreaking, you can continue to do so with smartphones and now, for the first time, tablets and smart TVs as well. You're still not allowed to jailbreak e-readers, handheld gaming devices, or laptops and desktop computers. Video game consoles are also off limits, as the Library of Congress found that, "as in 2012, opponents provided substantial evidence that console jailbreaking is closely tied to video game piracy."
The exemptions also include bypassing copyright protection methods for legally obtained video games that require authentication with a server that is no longer online. Without developer support, both customers and game historians have been unable to easily play or preserve a title with such protections in a museum or for academic study. You cannot circumvent these game protections with massively multiplayer online games, the Library of Congress confirmed, as those games tend to contain material stored directly on a company's server.
You still can't jailbreak your game console, but you can hack your car
Perhaps the most interesting new exemption allows for the tinkering of automotive software for the purpose of "good faith security research" and for "lawful modification." The ruling comes after a concerted effort from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed for two exemptions that are now more relevant than ever in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The EFF wanted to ensure companies and individuals could develop or use third-party diagnostic tools that bypass restrictions placed on the vehicle by its manufacturer, as well as allow security researchers to study possible exploits in a car's onboard computer system. The exemptions don't go into effect for an entire year, which the EFF said was "disappointing"and "unjustified" in an interview with Ars Technica.
Update at 3:10 p.m., October 27th: Added additional details from the online order.