Authors Alliance seeks DMCA exemption to enable production of multimedia ebooks

Posted December 13, 2014

Multimedia ebooks are still in their early days, but they present new opportunities for authors to express their ideas, creativity, and scholarship. As UC Press’s Alison Mudditt said at the recent Authors Alliance panel at Harvard, “there are an increasing number of faculty who are doing research that cannot be reproduced purely in print form.” And the opportunities presented by multimedia ebooks extend well beyond academia. At the same panel, creative nonfiction writer Rachel Cohen explained how multimedia possibilities are changing her work:

There is, however, a legal wrinkle that can hamper authors’ ability to create multimedia works when those works depend on the use of third-party content for purposes like criticism and commentary. While authors can easily and lawfully quote one another’s words to these ends, the law introduces difficulties when it comes to making quotation-like uses of digital content.

Understanding the DMCA

At issue is a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or “DMCA,” that prohibits the circumvention of Digital Rights Management (or “DRM”) technologies. While copyright law generally takes great care to ensure that exceptions like fair use maintain our ability to criticize, comment on, and transform copyrighted works, the DMCA does not clearly provide for these kinds of exceptions to its prohibitions. Put simply, evading DRM, even when done for otherwise lawful purposes, is considered by many authorities to be illegal.

But there is a mechanism for introducing exceptions to the DMCA. Every three years the Librarian of Congress is empowered to approve discrete, temporary exemptions from the law in order to carve out space for non-infringing uses caught up in the DMCA’s broad sweep. It’s a flawed system that requires stakeholders to reapply for their exceptions every three years, but it’s what we have. Over the years, this process has allowed individuals to unlock and “jailbreak” their mobile phones, make certain uses of video stored on DVDs, and help facilitate audio access to ebooks for print-disabled persons, among other things.

This rule-making cycle, Authors Alliance and author Bobette Buster, working with counsel from the University of California, Irvine Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic and the University of Colorado, Boulder Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic, are seeking an exemption that would allow authors to make ebooks making use of DRM-protected multimedia content. We believe that multimedia ebooks are an important new form of authorship and want to see authors empowered to fully realize their promise.

How Authors Can Help

Do you create multimedia ebooks that make use of third-party video or other DRM-protected digital content, or have you considered creating such an ebook? The individual voices of authors are essential to obtaining these important and time-sensitive exemptions. Please take our survey on this topic at http://authorsalliance.org/survey/ or get in touch with our legal team at DMCAebooks@law.uci.edu in order to share the kinds of work it is that you do, or would like to do, with regard to creating multimedia ebooks. And please spread the word!

Our initial petition to the Copyright Office is available below.