Boucher DMCA Exemption Bill Would Legalize Commercial-Skipping

A copy of the early draft language of the revised H.R. 1201, sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D - VA) and introduced on the floor of the US House of Representatives yesterday, shows the revised legislation would add six new exemptions to US Code section 1201, which had been amended by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

But the language in the new draft is shorter and simpler, and perhaps more prone to broader interpretations.

The six new 1201 exemptions the FAIR USE Act (its name is an acronym, thus prompting the otherwise rude capitalization) would add are further simplified as follows:

  • Teachers can make copies of audiovisual works for teaching purposes exclusively, and may circumvent copy protection to do so.
  • Individuals can circumvent any technology that would force them to watch commercials or offensive content (whether a Web page qualifies as an "audiovisual work" in this context may become a re-opened debate). This will be extremely important news to content producers, who have claimed in recent years that commercial skipping mechanisms such as those used on TiVo devices enable users to effectively break the terms of their contract with TV services, constituting not only a breach of contract but, as some executives have argued, outright theft of service.
  • Circumvention is permitted for individuals making copies of AV files they've downloaded for transmission over their own home networks, but not to the Internet.
  • You can defeat copy protection if your objective is to seek out a work in the public domain.
  • If you're a reporter or researcher, you can circumvent copy protection in the act of research or journalism (something very much of interest to us here at BetaNews).
  • Finally, as we reported yesterday, individuals can defeat copy protection in order to make backup copies of downloaded material.

As anticipated, the Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement to news organizations opposing the new Boucher Bill, on the grounds that its language is too ambiguous, and thus may enable IP theft.

"The difference between hacking done for non-infringing purposes and hacking done to steal is impossible to determine and enforce," the RIAA statement reads this afternoon. (Whether the RIAA is suggesting that legislation should instead "enforce a difference" is equally impossible to determine.)

For its part, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has come out in support of the bill, also as anticipated. "Technology companies play a game of Russian roulette whenever they create products with both infringing and non-infringing uses," an EFF statement reads this evening.

Another provision in the new Boucher Bill language would declare individuals free from liability for copyright infringement that takes place on devices that they design, manufacture, or distribute, if those devices have a principal, non-infringing purpose.

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