Every three years the US Copyright Office invites the public to suggest new exemptions to the DMCA, and as Ars Technica and TeleRead reminded us last week our chance to request an exemption for ebook DRM ends today, 3 November.
Much to my chagrin, almost the entire 2 plus month long public query period slipped by under my radar. And that is a shame, because this time around I would have loved to organize a campaign to promote a DMCA exemption for stripping ebook DRM.
And as the past three years has shown us, consumers really could have used that exemption - and not just so we can buy ebooks on one platform and use them on another.
While Chris proposed that the exemptions should enable "consumers to crack ebook DRM for purposes of archival and platform interoperability", I don't see that as having any chance at all - there's no similar exemption for movies or other content. What's more, I also don't think it's really necessary nor is there any tangible benefit to publishers to support it - not when they can sit back, do nothing, and let those who want to strip DRM continue to thumb our noses at the law.
But an exemption for the sole purpose of removing DRM to rescue content after the retailer shuts down or DRM servers have been turned off?
Now that is another matter.
This more limited exemption might pass muster. I'm basing that opinion on the fact that a similar exemption was granted in 2006 and then renewed in 2010. The older exemption expired in 2012, and it only covered DRMed software that required a dongle for verification purposes, but it did enable users to bypass the DRM when their dongle was obsolete and nonfunctional.
Similarly, if we had an ebook exemption, readers would have the right to strip DRM from their ebooks when Fictionwise closed. They'd be able to strip DRM when Diesel eBooks, JManga, or BooksonBoard closed.
And more importantly, they would have the legal right to strip DRM when the DRM servers are turned off.
In the past 3 years no fewer than 4 ebook DRM servers have gone away. Amazon turned off Mobipocket in late 2011, Microsoft shut down MSReader in 2011, and Barnes & Noble shuttered both eReader and eBookwise when they closed Fictionwise in late 2012.
Three of those four formats were major ebook platforms before the Kindle Store, and thanks to the investment readers had made over the previous decade they were still pretty important even up to the day the servers were shut off.
Tell me that doesn't cry out for an exemption, I dare you.
There isn't enough time for me to feel comfortable writing a petition, but if you file one, please let me know. I have a few ideas on how to promote the petition and line up support from groups like the EFF and public figures like Cory Doctorow.
Here are a few details from Ars Technica on what happens next:
Those considering filing should read the Copyright Office's webpage regarding the rulemaking, check their proposed template (Word file), and read the Federal Register notice that goes into detail on what they're looking for. To upload a petition, do so via the .
Once the petitions are submitted, it's the beginning of a months-long process until the actual rules come out. The Copyright Office will ask for "evidentiary filings," then allow opponents of the exemptions to respond, and then schedule public hearings on the proposed exemptions.
image by gaelx