We’re in the middle of the U.S. Copyright Office’s triennial DMCA exemption rulemaking. As you might expect, most of the filings are dry as dust, but buried in the latest submission by a coalition of big copyright owners (publishers, Authors’ Guild, BSA, MPAA, RIAA, etc.) is an utterly astonishing argument.
Some background: In light of the Sony-BMG CD incident, Alex and I asked the Copyright Office for an exemption allowing users to remove from their computers certain DRM software that causes security and privacy harm. The CCIA and Open Source and Industry Association made an even simpler request for an exemption for DRM systems that “employ access control measures which threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives.” Who could oppose that?
The BSA, RIAA, MPAA, and friends – that’s who. Their objections to these two requests (and others) consist mostly of lawyerly parsing, but at the end of their argument about our request comes this (from pp. 22-23 of the document, if you’re reading along at home):
Furthermore, the claimed beneficial impact of recognition of the exemption – that it would “provide an incentive for the creation of protection measures that respect the security of consumers’ computers while protecting the interests of the record labels” ([citation to our request]) – would be fundamentally undermined if copyright owners – and everyone else – were left in such serious doubt about which measures were or were not subject to circumvention under the exemption.
Hanging from the end of the above-quoted excerpt is a footnote:
This uncertainty would be even more severe under the formulations proposed in submissions 2 (in which the terms “privacy or security” are left completely undefined) or 8 [i.e., the CCIA request] (in which the boundaries of the proposed exemption would turn on whether access controls “threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives”).
You read that right. They’re worried that there might be “serious doubt” about whether their future DRM access control systems are covered by these exemptions, and they think the doubt “would be even more severe” if the “exemption would turn on whether access controls ‘threaten critical infrastructure and potentially endanger lives’.”
One would have thought they’d make awfully sure that a DRM measure didn’t threaten critical infrastructure or endanger lives, before they deployed that measure. But apparently they want to keep open the option of deploying DRM even when there are severe doubts about whether it threatens critical infrastructure and potentially endangers lives.
And here’s the really amazing part. In order to protect their ability to deploy this dangerous DRM, they want the Copyright Office to withhold from users permission to uninstall DRM software that actually does threaten critical infrastructure and endanger lives.
If past rulemakings are a good predictor, it’s more likely than not that the Copyright Office will rule in their favor.