DMCA

Are you familiar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? I don’t blame you — it’s not all that easy to follow. And it just got a little more ridiculous.

The DMCA makes it illegal for people to “circumvent” digital rights management. But when Congress passed it in 1998, it also gave the Library of Congress a loophole, empowering it to make exemptions however it sees fit — and the latest set of exemptions announced this week are downright kooky.

From this past Oct. 28 up to the next three years, users will have to deal with a random set of rules. Jailbreaking a smartphone is legal, but do it to a tablet and whoops, you’re a lawbreaker. Need to unlock your phone? Better make sure it’s bought before January 2013; purchase and unlock it yourself after that, and it’s illegal. (You can, however, ask if your carrier will do it.) Want to rip a DVD? Sure, you can do it to use the clip in a documentary, but don’t try to view it on your tablet.

Confused yet? Who wouldn’t be? This is what happens when politicians who don’t understand technology or digital rights intervene to set policy. Or they leave it up a body that’s still trying to hash it out itself.

For example, why is it okay to jailbreak a phone, but not a tablet? It actually boils down to one thing — the category of “tablet” being too vague. I mean, really, if you permit jailbreaking using a broad term like tablets, you could unleash a bevy of gaming devices and eReaders too. And that would just be pandemonium. [Insert eye roll.]

There are many finer points to all of this — and if you’re inclined, I encourage you to hit up the source link for a detailed rundown — but the gist is this: DRM is complicated affair made heinous when you have policymakers who don’t understand it. And that lack of knowledge and confidence is what sets the stage for the individual exemptions that produce a crazy vat of arbitrary rules like this.

Ars Technica said it best:

…circumventing copy protection schemes shouldn’t be against the law in the first place.… [M]any uses of DRM have nothing to do with copyright infringement in the first place. Rather, they’re a convenient legal pretext for limiting competition and locking consumers into proprietary products. We shouldn’t be using copyright law as a backdoor means to give such anti-competitive practices the force of law.

What do you think? Should DRM be enforced? And if so, what’s your take on the exemptions before us now? Weigh in with your opinions below.

[Via Ars Technica]