Library Of Congress Announces Exemption To DMCA That Benefits College Professors

July 28, 2010

Anti-piracy DVDA press release from Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced "six classes of works" that would allow users to bypass technology restricting access to motion pictures on DVD. One of the exemptions is a big victory for higher education.

According to Inside Higher Ed, film content is widely used in the classroom setting. Professors are discovering that the traditional book and lecture approach is no longer the most effective teaching method and in recent years have been trying to come up with new techniques, many of which involve technology and media. Movie clips have become a popular tool as they seem to resonate with students. "The ways that movies tend to be edited and constructed often allow a point to be made more viscerally," said Edward W. Felten, who teaches computer science and public affairs at Princeton University. Professors who teach courses on the sociology of crime may want to use excerpts from the HBO television show The Wire or environmental geography professors might want to include scenes from the Planet Earth series in their lectures.

The Library Journal reported that previously only faculty who taught film and media studies were allowed to use content in such a way and were exempt from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA, which was passed in 1998, prohibited the act of "circumventing technology, such as copy-protection, that controls access to digital materials". As noted in the press release, section 1201(a)(1) of the copyright law requires that the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights determine "whether current technologies that control access to copyrighted works are diminishing the ability of individuals to use works in lawful, noninfringing ways". Every three years the two decide whether new exemptions should be made and whether old exemptions should be renewed. This year, the Register of Copyrights received 19 submissions proposing 25 classes of works.

The Librarian of Congress granted permission for individuals to hack the Content Scrambling System (CSS) on motion picture DVDs provided that only "short portions" of the film were used in new works "for the purpose of criticism or comment" in educational use, documentary filmmaking or noncommercial videos. Inside Higher Ed added that the exemption also included non-classroom settings such as presentations for academic conferences.

Although some professors already use movie clips to illustrate concepts, the exemption would make the process much easier. Currently, if a professor wanted to show a clip from a movie, he or she would have to cue the scene by navigating menus and fast-forwarding. Switching DVDs further complicates the process and all of this eats up valuable lecture time.

The new exemption is similar to a literature professor reading entire paragraphs during class, argued Jason Mitchell, an associate professor of American studies and film and media culture in Middlebury College. Mitchell pointed out that English professors can come to class with pages already bookmarked to read aloud or photocopied for handouts during class. Now all professors can do the same thing with other forms of media such as films and TV series.

While the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been lenient with academics who have been pirating film content before the exemption was made, officials do worry that "legalizing DVD decryption would open the gates to pirating outside of higher education". Fritz Attaway, an executive with the MPAA, explained that the exemption will make it nearly impossible for copyright owners to determine what hacks are for educational purposes and which are piratical.

Nonetheless, fair use advocates are rejoicing. "We're doing nothing but chat about this, we're so excited," said Patricia Aufderheide, a communications professor and director of the Center for Social Media at American University, to Inside Higher Ed.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Librarian of Congress Announces DMCA Section 1201 Rules for Exemptions Regarding Circumvention of Access-Control Technologies," loc.gov, July 26, 2010

"Library of Congress Expands Copyright Exception for Film Clips, Maintains Ebook Exemption," libraryjournal.com, July 27, 2010, David Rapp

"Movie Clips and Copyright," insidehighered.com, July 28, 2010, Steve Kolowich

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