October 31, 2018
The Library of Congress and U.S. Copyright Office just passed exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that legalizes the so-called right to repair. Although the DMCA was created to prevent copyright piracy, it also resulted in a host of problematic side effects. Because devices such as smartphones come loaded with digital rights management (DRM) software, users infringed copyright laws if they attempted to repair such devices. With the new exemptions, users are now free to do so.
Digital Trends reports that, in particular, “Apple is infamous for its aggressive use of DRM and its strong discouragement of users or third parties repairing its devices” — to the point that Apple device software can determine if a part was installed by approved personnel or an “unapproved third party.” Although getting around DRM to fix a broken device can be complicated, at least the would-be repair person won’t be breaking copyright law. With repair of devices now legal, repair tools can be built legally as well.
Gaming fans are now also free to archive historical games, which, up until now, “were previously only legally available on obsolete devices, making studying or preserving these games extremely difficult.” With the new ruling, interested parties can “preserve old games by keeping copies of not only the software that runs on a user’s computer, but also the software that runs on company’s servers,” which could allow for the preservation of both online games (such as “Everquest”) and those for obsolete consoles (such as Dreamcast).
TechCrunch lists the various things now legal with the revised copyright law. Users can now unlock new phones, rather than only used ones. Users can also jailbreak voice assistant devices including Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod. “Doubtless there are plenty of people who would love to poke around inside an old Echo and load it up with open source software — and now they can do so in compliance with the law,” says TechCrunch.
People will also be able to repair smart home devices and components. Now, if the manufacturer of a smart home device goes out of business or the subscriber stops paying for the service, he or she will not be stuck with a useless paperweight; “you should be able to get root access and fix or reactivate devices (like smart bulbs or security cameras) that have been abandoned or bricked.”
Cars and tractors, previously protected by DRM, will now be more of an open book to repair shops and users who want to “access or modify” the software. But it’s still forbidden to “tweak it in any way that impairs its roadworthiness.” Another new freedom will be to be able to hire a third party to do these repairs, crucial for those who don’t have the ability or desire to take their devices apart.
TechCrunch predicts that this will “hopefully result in a more flourishing used-device market and allow phones, cars and smart home devices to live longer and happier lives.” At the same time, it notes that other devices — game consoles, for example — need to be added to the list of exemptions, and that all of the recently exempted categories will need to be refreshed in three years.