As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) review process, the Copyright Office recently asked the public to weigh in on which devices should be legal to tinker with, hack, and repair. Well, they got what they asked for. In a big, big way. On Friday, iFixit sent its own statements in support of reform to the Copyright Office. And with our comments, we all also sent yours. All 40,755 of them. Those comments will ultimately help the Librarian of Congress decide which devices owners are allowed to digitally tweak, modify, and fix.
So, what does tinkering have to do with copyright law? Lots, actually. All gadgets are powered by programming—and that programming is copyrighted. Sometimes, manufacturers put locks (like encryptions or passwords) over programming to stop owners from tweaking the settings. Under the DMCA, breaking those digital locks—even for the purpose of modification and repair—can put owners on the wrong side of the law. But every three years, the Copyright Office performs a review to decide which technologies should be exempt from the law. Basically, after companies like Keurig and CatGenie lock down coffeemakers and kitty litter pans with DRM, the Copyright Office steps in to decide if owners can break those locks.
This year, the Copyright Office is considering 27 different proposed exemptions—on everything from jailbreaking game consoles and unlocking cell phones, to farmers repairing their tractors and blind readers stripping DRM from their ebooks.
Usually, the exemption process happens with very little fanfare. But—as we’ve argued time and time again on this blog—copyright is shaping up to be next big battleground in technology. And we wanted the Copyright Office to know that people care about this issue. So, last week, iFixit went on Reddit with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Together, we asked people to make their voices heard, and to write comments in support of any (or all) of the 27 proposed exemptions that were important to them. Ultimately, more than 2,818 people stepped up—and we collected 40,755 individual comments in support of the 27 different exemptions.
On Friday, iFixit sent those comments to the Copyright Office at the rate of one comment per second. The process took us over 11 hours. We’ll eat our fez if that’s not the most comments the Copyright Office has ever received for a DMCA review. Thank you to everyone who spoke up for their right to repair.
Want to add your statement? While the first round of submissions is officially over, the public will have one more chance to comment in support of proposals in May. Until then, stay tuned.