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US Copyright Office submits new exemptions on R2R

R2R ImageThe US Copyright Office is expanding a legal shield for fixing digital devices, including cars and medical devices. This morning, the office submitted new exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects software copy protection. The exemptions include a revamped section on device repair, reflecting renewed government pressure around “right to repair” issues.

The exemptions recommend Section 1201 “anti-circumvention” exemptions every three years, a process that has offered legal protections for everything from unlocking cellphones to ripping DVD clips for classroom use. In addition to these and other exemptions, this rule adopts proposals from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, iFixit, and other organizations. The Librarian of Congress adopted the recommendations in a final rule that will take effect tomorrow.

The exemptions replace an itemized list of repairable devices with broad protections for any consumer devices that rely on software to function. The rulemaking doesn’t rewrite the exemption to cover all non-consumer devices, and it doesn’t cover “modification,” only “diagnosis, maintenance, and repair.” For video game consoles specifically, repair only covers repairing the device’s optical drives and requires reenabling any technological protection measures that were circumvented afterward.

“The petitioners did a good job of showing commonalities across different types of devices,” said Acting General Counsel Kevin Amer on a phone call with reporters. “We also are aware of some of the efforts that the executive branch has undertaken in this area,” including an executive order from the Biden administration supporting third-party and consumer repair work. “We do think that this exemption will be useful and will help to facilitate that type of activity.”

Other agencies have their own right to repair policies on the table. The FTC has pledged to fight business practices that lock out independent repair shops. This copyright rulemaking doesn’t address those practices, but it helps lift a legal threat hanging over technicians and consumers.

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