Yesterday the United States Copyright Office held a rare meeting (held once every three years) to review and change some copyright law. In doing so, the Copyright Office made a landmark decision that can definitely be seen as a win for digital rights supporters. Changes to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allowed for more freedom for users wishing to install custom firmware on to their phones, as well as (some) users who wished to make backups of their DVD movies.
First and foremost the new rules allow owners of smart phones such as the Apple iPhone to legally develop, distribute, and use non-approved third party applications. On the iPhone, this process known as “jailbreaking”, allows a user to install an application from a source outside of the Apple App Store; a store that is often attacked for being too strict.
What does this mean for the consumer? Well, it simply means that one is no longer restricted to just the applications approved by Apple for use on the iPhone. However, the “jailbreaking” process still requires a certain effort on the part of the end user, and will not be supported by Apple. One company that I’d keep my eye on after this announcement is Google, who I expect to release a Google Voice and Google Latitude application for jailbroken iPhones.
A letter from Apple to the United States Copyright Office argues that jailbreaking should not be allowed, as it opens the doors for allowing people to break other copyrights by installing applications onto their handhelds. Apple also argued that jailbreaking could cause problems with the device, and claims that jailbroken iPhones generate high numbers of support calls, as the process has the potential to distribute malware and reduce the functionality of the phone.
Another thing that came out of the meeting yesterday – an aspect that is not being widely covered – is the new rights given to owners of DVDs. This being, DVD ripping has always been somewhat of a gray area in the law, as the legality of it was highly debated. However, yesterdays decision allows for certain types of DVD movies; documentaries, educational material, and non-commercial videos, to be copied and backed up. This does not mean that distributing copies of said films has been legalized, but rather ensures that the owner will be able to retain the contents of a DVD if is ever to get damaged. While consumers would have ideally received the right to copy any type of film as apposed to just educational and non-commercial movies, this move on the part of the Copyright Office definitely shows that the days of DRM (digital rights management) are quickly fading away.
Look at the introduction of Amazon’s DRM free music store. Look at Apple’s decision to make the iTunes store DRM free. Look at movies that are now beginning to offer electronic downloads from the film producers with the purchase of the DVD. All of these little things that have taken place over the last couple of years are beginning to show the widespread movement away from DRM, and ultimately away from limiting the rights of consumers.