Fair Use Act introduced to rein in the DMCA

Yesterday an important piece of legislation was introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) and two co-sponsors (one Democrat and one Republican, for those who keep score).

The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing US Entrepreneurship Act, in spite of its awkward title intended to create the acronym FAIR USE Act, is an attempt to mitigate the negative impact of DMCA anti-circumvention rules on education, among other activities. Note that it is not a full-scale incorporation of fair use as a DMCA exception, which would create furious opposition, but a more limited attempt to improve the situation for education and for libraries.

Last fall, the Library of Congress approved an educational exception to anti-circumvention for the first time — a narrow rule permitting film and media professors to circumvent security measures in order to make compilations of film clips for classroom use. The new exception lasts for three years, after which it would either “sunset” or have to be renewed. The legislation proposed by Rep. Boucher would make all of the current six exception to the DMCA permanent.

More importantly, this bill would expand the scope of exceptions to the DMCA in ways that would really improve the climate for educational use of technology. The film clip exemption would be expanded to embrace all classroom compilations, not just those in film and media studies classes. Circumvention would also be allowed in order to gain access to public domain works, thus preventing commercial interests from “locking up” content that ought to be available for all to use. Finally, it would allow libraries to circumvent technological protections for purposes of preservation, helping to ensure that digital content will not be lost as technology changes.

This bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and its full text is not yet available on THOMAS, the Library of Congress database for tracking legislation. So stay tuned for further information and updates. But even at this early stage it is safe to say that passage of this bill would be an important step for instructional technology and library preservation of digital works, and it deserves our strong support.

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