6 Updated Exemptions for Permissible Copyright Circumvention

The Librarian of Congress recently released an updated list of exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA generally prohibits the circumvention of access-control technologies used by copyright owners to protect their works. But the exemptions allow users of certain types of works to circumvent such controls to make noninfringing uses of such works.

Here are the six exemptions from this year’s updated list of permissible copyright circumvention:

Motion Picture DVDs

College professors and film/media studies students, documentary filmmakers, and those making noncommercial videos may incorporate short clips of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment if they have reasonable grounds for believing it’s necessary for the criticism or comment. Previously, this exemption was limited to professors making compilations of film clips for classroom instruction.

Wireless Telecommunications Network Software

The exemption allowing cell phone users to unlock firmware or software that limits their phones to a particular wireless telecommunications network has been extended.

Cell Phone Applications

Cell phone users may now “jailbreak” through the copy protection technology on their phones to execute software for the sole purpose of allowing the applications to work on their phones, as long as the applications have been obtained lawfully. Users, however, should be aware that other provisions in their licensing agreements may restrict their ability to successfully jailbreak their phone.

Video Games

Under this new exemption, the copyright protection on video games on personal computers can now be circumvented — but only for security testing. The information derived from the testing must be used primarily to promote the security of the computer’s owner or operator, the computer system, or the computer network. And the information must be used or maintained in a way that doesn’t facilitate infringement or a violation of applicable law.

Obsolete “Dongles”

The exemption has been extended that allows circumvention for computer programs protected by “dongles” — or small computer attachments — that prevent access because of malfunction or damage and that are obsolete. A dongle is considered obsolete if it’s no longer manufactured or if a replacement or repair is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace.


The exemption also has been extended for literary works distributed in electronic book (e-book) format when all existing e-book editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that convert the text into a specialized format. If, however, a publisher offers an audio version of a book, a user can’t legally circumvent the access controls.

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