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Digital Millennium Act

The 1201a Ruling:

On October 27, 2000 the final ruling was published which determined the classes of copyrighted works that were exempt from the prohibition against circumvention of access control measures. The relevant portions dealing with dongles are below, the full version is available at the Copyright Office's web site.

This is a huge victory for consumers of computer software, libraries and educational institutions!

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Ed Foster of InfoWorld and Mr. Jim Seymour of PC Magazine for their articles and their fight on behalf of the consumer.

Copyright Office
37 CFR Part 201
[Docket No. RM 99-7D]

Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies

AGENCY: Copyright Office, Library of Congress.

ACTION: Final Rule.

This rule designates the classes of copyrighted works that the Librarian of Congress has determined shall be subject to exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under title 17 of the U.S. Code. In title I of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress established that this prohibition against circumvention will become effective October 28, 2000. The same legislation directed the Register of Copyrights to conduct a rulemaking procedure and to make recommendations to the Librarian as to whether any classes of works should be subject to exemptions from the prohibition against circumvention. The exemptions set forth in this rule will be in effect until October 28, 2003.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 28, 2000

Literary Works, Including Computer Programs and Databases, Protected by Access Control Mechanisms That Fail to Permit Access Because of Malfunction, Damage or Obsoleteness

"This designation of class of works is intended to exempt users of software, databases and other literary works in digital formats who are prevented from accessing such works because the access control protections are not functioning in the way that they were intended. In the course of this rulemaking proceeding, a number of users, and in particular consumers of software and users of compilations, expressed concerns about works which they could not access even though they were authorized users, due to the failure of access control mechanisms to function properly.

Substantial evidence was presented on this issue, in particular relating to the use of dongles, hardware locks attached to a computer that interact with software programs to prevent unauthorized access to that software.

C199.(Spectrum Software's initial comments)
One commenter attached numerous letters and news articles to his submission and testimony, documenting the experience of users whose dongles become damaged or malfunction.

(Spectrum Software's president Joseph V. Montoro's testimony of May 2nd, 2000) It appears that in such instances, the vendors of the software may be nonresponsive to requests to replace or repair the dongle, or may require the user to purchase either a new dongle or an entirely new software package, usually at a substantial cost. In some cases, the vendors have gone out of business, and the user has had no recourse for repair or replacement of the dongle.

Libraries and educational institutions also stated that they have experienced instances where materials they obtained were protected by access controls that subsequently malfunctioned, and they could not obtain timely relief from the copyright owner. R34, R75 (National Library of Medicine), R111 (National Agricultural Library). Similarly, libraries stated that there have been instances where material has been protected by technological access protections that are obsolete or are no longer supported by the copyright owner. Id.

No evidence has been presented to contradict the evidence of problems with malfunctioning, damaged or obsolete technological measures. Nor has evidence been presented that the marketplace is likely to correct this problem in the next three years.

This appears to be a genuine problem that the market has not adequately addressed, either because companies go out of business or because they have insufficient incentive to support access controls on their products at some point after the initial sale or license. In cases where legitimate users are unable to access works because of damaged, malfunctioning or obsolete access controls, the access controls are not furthering the purpose of protecting the work from unauthorized users. Rather, they are preventing authorized users from getting the access to which they are entitled. This prevents them from making the noninfringing uses they could otherwise make. This situation is particularly troubling in the context of libraries and educational institutions, who may be prevented from engaging in noninfringing uses of archiving and preservation of works protected by access controls that are obsolete or malfunctioning. In effect, it puts such users in a position where they cannot obtain access; nor, under 1201(a)(1), would they be permitted to circumvent the access controls to make non-infringing uses of the work unless they fall within an exemption.

Not only does such a result have an adverse impact on noninfringing uses, but it also does not serve the interests of copyright owners that 1201(a)(1) was meant to protect. In almost all cases where this exemption will apply, the copyright owner will already have been compensated for access to the work. This does not cause significant harm to the copyright owner.

...But in reality, this exemption addresses a problem that could be experienced by users in accessing all classes of copyrighted works. This subject matter is probably more suitable for a legislative exemption, and the Register recommends that Congress consider amending section 1201 to provide a statutory exemption for all works, regardless of what class of work is involved, that are protected by access control mechanisms that fail to permit access because of malfunction, damage or obsoleteness.

The factors listed in 1201(a)(1)(C) support the creation of this exemption. In cases such as those described above, access controls actually decrease the availability of works for any use, since works that were intended to be available become unavailable due to damage, malfunction or obsoleteness. This decrease in availability is felt particularly by the library and educational communities, who have been prevented from making non-infringing uses, including archiving and preservation, by malfunctioning or obsolete access controls.

Circumvention of access controls in these instances should not have a significant effect on the market for or value of the works, since copyright owners typically will already have been compensated for the use of the work."