Copyright Office Says Security Researchers May Hack Cars, But We Can’t Strip DRM From eBooks

3373502087_eeb7fb7bfa_bEvery three years the US Copyright Office asks the public to suggest exemptions to the DMCA restrictions on circumventing DRM. Recommendations were submitted in a Section 1201 rule-making procedure earlier this year, and today the Register of Copyrights has published a list of the exemptions which were accepted or rejected.

The list (PDF) was passed to the Librarian of Congress for approval, and it falls short of my hopes.

We can’t, for example, bypass the DRM on a litter box, coffee maker, or drone (no one made the request). On a related note, Chris Meadows’ request to let us bypass DRM so we could format-shift ebooks was rejected, alas.

But on the upside Consumerist reports that a few important exemptions were accepted by the Register. Schools will continue to be able to bypass DVD DRM to copy clips of movies, and the Internet Archive’s collection of old computer games and apps is now completely legal. Jailbreaking your iPhone is also aboveboard, and so is security testing on your vehicle.

  • Education: College and university faculty and students, K-12 faculty and students, and libraries and museums continue to be able to circumvent DRM on “motion pictures” (TV and movies) for the purposes of using short sections of media for criticism, comment, and education.
  • Cars: An exemption to permit DRM circumvention is made to cars’ computer systems except for telmatics (the “black box”) and entertainment systems “when circumvention is a necessary step undertaken by the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function.”
  • Device unlocking and jailbreaking: Mobile phone unlocking and jailbreaking continue to be permitted, and the exemptions now extend to other multi-function mobile devices, including tablets and wearables. Jailbreaking exemptions do also now extend to smart-TVs, so long as it’s only to install new software, but they do not extend to single-purpose devices like ereaders.
  • Security research: For the purposes of “good faith security research,” researchers may hack cars, voting machines, and medical devices “where such activity is carried out in a controlled environment designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public.” You can’t hack a medical device that’s being used, but you may take one to a lab and have at it in isolation.
  • Video games: Plenty of games require server authentication to work… but over time, those servers keel over or get unplugged. Individuals may break DRM to get their own abandoned, legally purchased games to work locally for their own personal use, and that libraries and museums may do so for educational and archival purposes as well.

While this is good news, I wouldn’t get to cracking the DRM on your Jeep just yet; most of the exemptions won’t take effect for 12 months. The delay is intended to give regulatory agencies time to come to terms with the new rules.


image by frankieleon

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Doug27 October, 2015

    Interestingly, it appears that the Librarian felt that jail-breaking (rooting) e-readers probably would be okay, but couldn’t recommend approving it because nobody bothered to provide any evidence one way or the other.

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 October, 2015

      Frankly, I didn’t see that as an important issue (as compared to ebook DRM).

      eReaders aren’t nearly as locked down as smartphones. Sure, they are usually limited to one form of DRM, but we can sideload ebooks (and it’s easy). I’m not even sure how you would jailbreak a Kindle, not in the same sense that you would an iPhone.

  2. Frank27 October, 2015

    I jail-broke my Paperwhite and the only useful thing I could find was being able to change the font. I also found a EPUB reader that worked, but it is easy to convert to MOBI.
    There just isn’t much reason to jailbreak an ereader.

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 October, 2015

      I agree, Frank.

      The real point of control on the ebook market is the DRM on the ebooks, not the hardware. In fact, now that we read on smartphones ereaders are almost secondary to the market.

  3. Chris Meadows27 October, 2015

    Well, at least they did me the credit of considering my request seriously, even if they declined it. At least I can say I tried. And it’s not everybody who gets mentioned by name in an official government that will be part of the record for all time.

  4. Chris Meadows27 October, 2015

    Official government DOCUMENT. Where did that word go?

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 October, 2015

      BTW, got a link to your post on your submission? I couldn’t find it.

  5. Chris Meadows27 October, 2015

    Sure thing. Here’s two links for the price of one:

  6. Chris Meadows27 October, 2015

    By the way, you might want to fix that typo in the headline. 🙂

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 October, 2015

      Nah. I like it better this way.

  7. […] Other approved exemptions included allowing educators and students, libraries, and museums to circumvent motion picture DRM for criticism, comment, and education; allowing bypassing DRM on automobile computers for “diagnosis, repair, or lawful modification of a vehicle function”; security research on cars, voting machines, and medical devices; jailbreaking abandonware video games for personal use, educational, or archival purposes; and bypassing DRM on 3D printers in order to use non-manufacturer-approved feedstock. The Consumerist covers the matter in more detail. (Found via The Digital Reader.) […]

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