Recapping the 1201 DMCA Exemption Hearings

Posted May 29, 2015

We have blogged several times about Authors Alliance’s effort to obtain an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that will preserve authors’ right to make fair use in the digital age.

Yesterday, our team testified in support of this effort at a hearing at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Authors Alliance Executive Director Michael Wolfe was joined by noted film scholar Bobette Buster and representatives from the Intellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic at University of California, Irvine School of Law and the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic at University of Colorado School of Law.

The exemption, which we explain in greater detail here and here, would protect the fair use rights of e-book authors, allowing them to bypass the encryption on DVDs, Blu-ray, and other media in order to use film clips in multimedia e-books. This would be a renewal and modification of a more limited exemption that was granted in 2012 and will expire this fall. Unlike the current rule, the exemption we seek would allow authors to access Blu-ray content and would cover important fair uses beyond the narrow category of criticism and commentary in film analysis.

The hearings went well. The Copyright Office posed many questions early and often, but Michael and Bobette answered them ably, with assistance from their legal team of UCI Law student Aaron Benmark, CU Law student Molly Priya McClurg, CU Professor Blake Reid, and UCI Professor Jack Lerner. The debate revolved around several questions, including the scope of the proposed exemption and the necessity of High Definition footage in the modern multimedia e-book market. The hearing ran long, lasting about two hours and twenty minutes, and we were very glad to have the opportunity to answer all the Office’s questions and to provide additional information demonstrating why this exemption is so important to authors.

At the end of the day, we are confident that our efforts will help the Copyright Office recognize the fundamental realities at play in this proceeding:

  • As rightsholders, authors make responsible fair use, and we do so in many fields beyond film analysis (a limitation in the current exemption);
  • The modern e-book market demands HD footage and we need to access HD footage in order to make our fair use;
  • And finally, nothing in the exemption we propose carries any risk of harm to rightsholders. There has not been even a hint that the current exemption has led to copyright infringement—and there’s no reason to think that our proposed one will be any different.

We’ll know the result of the hearing in the fall, when the Register of Copyrights makes her final recommendation and the Librarian of Congress adopts a final rule. In the meantime, Authors Alliance will continue our work in support of authors who write to be read.