Joining the chorus, Scientific American denounces the DMCA and endorses the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s white paper, “Unintended Consequences”. The sides will be considerably more even when the fight is rejoined in the new Congress:
- The entertainment industry should not feel free just yet to harass users and makers of musical potties. Toward the end of the 2002 congressional year, Representative Rick Boucher of Virginia and Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, along with co-sponsors, introduced separate bills designed to delineate fair use for consumers of digital content. Both the Boucher and Lofgren bills look to amend existing law to allow circumvention of protection measures if a specific use does not infringe copyright. Moreover, the Lofgren bill would let consumers perform limited duplications of legally owned works and transfer them to other media.
The divisions that pit the entertainment industry against fair-use advocates should lay the groundwork for a roiling intellectual-property debate this year. Enough momentum exists for some of these opposing bills to be reintroduced in the new Congress. But, for once, consumers, with the support of information technology and consumer electronics companies, will be well represented. In addition to the efforts of Boucher and Lofgren, grassroots support has emerged. Digitalconsumer.org formed last year to combat new protectionist legislative proposals and to advocate alteration of the DMCA to promote digital fair use. The group has called for guarantees for activities such as copying a CD to a portable MP3 player and making backup copies, which are illegal under the DMCA, if copy protection is violated.
The DMCA has not only undercut fair use but also stifled scientific investigations. Felten and his colleagues faced the threat of litigation under the DMCA when they were about to present a paper on breaking a copy-protection scheme, just one of several instances in which the law has dampened computer-security research [see EFF white paper referenced above]. The legal system should try to achieve a balance between the rights of owners and users of copyrighted works. An incisive debate is urgently needed to restore that balance.