LCA Submits Testimony to House Judiciary Subcommittee for Copyright Review Hearing on Technological Protection Measures

On September 17, 2014, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet continued its copyright review with a hearing on Chapter 12 of the Copyright Act, which governs technological protection measures (TPM). The hearing included four witnesses: Mr. Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy, American Foundation for the Blind; Mr. Jonathan Zuck, President, ACT | The App Association; Mr. Christian Genetski, Senior Vice-President and General Counsel, Entertainment Software Association; and Ms. Corynne McSherry; Intellectual Property Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) submitted a statement to the Subcommittee in advance of the hearing.

The LCA testimony points out that overly-broad anti-circumvention language was initially proposed in 1994 and 1995 over objections that these prohibitions could prevent circumvention for lawful purposes. After the 1996 adoption of the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT) and WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), PTO Commissioner Lehman proposed new anti-circumvention language to implement the treaties. Again, the proposals were overly broad, regulating both tools and conduct, regulating circumvention apart from underlying infringement and governing circumvention for both access-control technologies and copy-control technologies rather than only prohibiting copying. Significantly, the WIPO treaties did not require these overly-broad features, as Commissioner Lehman himself conceded when testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee.

Despite the fact that alternative proposals were made to address these overly-broad proposals, “Congress instead created a set of complex exceptions and limitations to the administration’s sweeping language, resulting in the convoluted, inconsistent section 1201 we have today. Some of these limitations are of limited effectiveness.” Additionally, Congress, in recognition that additional exceptions other than those explicitly included in Section 1201 may be desirable, directed the Librarian of Congress to conduct a rulemaking process every three years to determine additional classes of works that should be granted an exemption for the subsequent three-year period. However, as the LCA testimony points out, “A narrower section 1201 limited to circumvention that led to infringement would have obviated the need for the rulemaking procedure altogether.”

Over the years, there have been several efforts to amend section 1201 to address the potential problems resulting from an interpretation of this section as prohibiting circumvention of access controls or the manufacture and distribution of circumvention tools, even if they are for non-infringing purposes. These bills have varied from creating additional specific exceptions to requiring a nexus between circumvention and infringement. Most recently, controversy over the Librarian of Congress’ 2012 decision not to renew an exemption for cell phone unlocking that had been granted in previous rulemakings, resulted in renewed efforts to address flaws in Section 1201. Although Representatives Lofgren (D-CA), Massie (R-KY), Eshoo (D-CA) and Polis (D-CO) introduced a broad bill, the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013, that would have permitted circumvention for non-infringing uses, ultimately Congress took a narrower approach and adopted a temporary fix specific to the problem of cell phone unlocking.

The LCA testimony also includes a summary of litigation over Section 1201, explaining that currently a circuit split exists as to whether the language of 1201 requires a nexus between infringement and circumvention for liability to attach.

Additionally, the LCA testimony covers the three-year rulemaking process, which LCA members have participated in during each cycle. The testimony points out some of the absurdities of the process as well as the high costs and burdens of participating in the rulemaking cycle. The testimony points out that “From start to finish, the process can take more than a year” and that the inefficient system places burdens on not only the proponents of exemptions, but the Copyright Office, as well.

The testimony concludes with several proposed amendments to Section 1201 including:

  • Attaching liability to circumvention only if it enables infringement
  • Placing the burden of proof on those opposing renewal of exemptions to demonstrate why it should not be renewed or should be modified
  • Making exemptions permanent if a second renewal is granted
  • Shifting final rulemaking authority from the Librarian of Congress to the Assistant Secretary for Communication and Information of the Department of Commerce
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