EFF presents Mur Lafferty’s sci-fi story about our Fair Use Petition at the Copyright Office

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Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA 1201) prohibits the circumvention of any type of lock controlling access to copyrighted material. Obtaining exemptions from these prohibitions is a long and complicated process which often results in long and complicated exemptions which are difficult to use. As part of our ongoing efforts to fight this law, we present a series of science fiction stories to illustrate the detrimental effects of DMCA 1201.

It’s been 20 years since Congress passed Section 1201 of the DMCA, one of the ugliest mistakes in the cluttered realm of bad ideas about computer regulation. Thanks to section 1201, if a computer has a lock to control access to a copyrighted work, then bypass that lock, for whatever reason is illegal. In practice, this means that a manufacturer can make the legitimate and usual things that you do with your own property, in your own home, or in your workplace illegal, simply by designing the products to include these digital locks.

A little good news: Congress has designed a largely ornamental exhaust valve in this system: every three years, the Librarian of Congress can grant exemptions from the law for certain activities. These exemptions make these uses temporarily legal, but (here’s the hilarious part), it’s still not legal to create a tool to allow that use. It’s as if Congress expects you to gnaw at your devices and manually change software with the sensitive tips of your nimble fingers or something like that. That said, in many cases, it’s easy to download the tools you need anyway. We are suing the US government to invalidate DMCA 1201 which would remove all the joke. It’s 2018, and that means it’s time for exemptions again! The EFF and many of our allies have requested a series of exemptions from DMCA 1201 this year, and in this series, we are teaming up with some incredible science fiction writers to explain the stakes of those requests.

This week we are discussing our video exemption.

Motion pictures emerged at the end of the 19th century, but it took over a century for the production and distribution of videos to become accessible to almost everyone, even children. Today billions of people are able to create, share and remix more videos than the world has ever seen, and as new creators have taken over the means of production, new forms of creativity. and speeches have emerged, delighting and exciting millions of people. , sparking even more creativity and innovation.

But even though the tools for creating videos have gotten easier, the rules for using them have gotten a lot more complicated. Although copyright law contains broad essential exceptions that allow filmmakers, critics, educators, and other users to take movie clips to use in their own works, the use of DRM to lock video and l The Section 1201 ban on breaking DRMs adds real legal risk to this important business.

In previous proceedings, the Copyright Office has granted exemptions allowing certain groups of people to bypass DRM in order to create and educate, but these grants have ruled out all kinds of fair and legitimate uses. Now that we have years of evidence that circumventing DRM for fair use hasn’t hurt the film industry, it’s time to extend these rights to everyone, and that’s why we asked the Copyright Office to grant a new exemption allowing anyone to bypass DRM in order to exercise their fair use rights.

Hugo and Nebula 2017 nominee Mur Lafferty was kind enough to write us a short sci-fi story called “The Unicorn Scene” about the importance of making fair dealing accessible to everyone:

The unicorn scene, by Mur Lafferty

Erica put her hand on Mary’s shoulder as her friend scrolled through Netflix. “Look, the idea is great, it’s never been done before, it shows leadership, creativity… what? “

Mary had literally just taken over as chef. She shook her head several times to insist.

“It’s not getting anyone anywhere,” Erica said. “What did you find?”

“I can’t break the DRM of any of these movies. We can’t get the clips we need, ”Mary said, staring at the error message on her screen.

Mary was a movie buff. No one had an eye for cinema like her. When other children were reading Hunger games and Divergent, she was reading critical essays by Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert. She was explaining at length the metaphorical meaning of colors in The Godfather movies even before her parents let her watch the movies themselves. There was no doubt that she was the greatest movie nerd her hometown of Asheville had ever seen, but no one had guaranteed acceptance at the NY Film Institute.

She had hosted the Buncombe County Student Film Festival when she was in her second year. This first year, ten people from his school and the parents of film students came. Now that she was a senior, they needed an auditorium for 800 people after the interest in the festival.

Not to mention that a representative from the NY Film Institute would come and interview Mary the next day.

The problem was that the festival was not going to take place. At least, not like she had imagined.

The challenge this year was to take five famous films and cross-cut them into a new short. She had researched the law – using films in this way was legal under fair use. It should have been easy to do.

Only she was unable to access any video from the film for editing.

“Let me see,” Erica said, searching for information on her phone. “Hey, all hope is not lost. It looks like you can get a license for movie clips. It might get expensive, but which movie project is free?

“How much?” Mary asked, her voice flat as if she already knew his answer.

Erica was silent for a moment. “How many clips do you want to use? “

Mary looked at her notebook where she had sketched the film using clips from The Princess Bride, The Godfather, The Room, The Cabin in the Woods and Rosemary’s Baby. She counted for a moment. “Three hundred.”

“Do you have three hundred thousand dollars lying around?” Erica asked after a moment.

“Is that a thousand dollars per clip?” I couldn’t even pay for a preview of each movie! »Says Marie. “How is that possible? It’s fair use, we don’t break any laws.

“We could bypass DRM. It’s not hard. I know a girl in my programming class, ”Erica said.

“Then we would be breaking the laws,” said Mary. “I would go into my interview saying, ‘Hello, interviewer. I’m sorry that I can’t go to your film school, but I will be working for the next fifty years to pay my fines for violating DRM in order to use a music video in a perfectly legal fair use situation.

“We might not get caught,” Erica said.

Mary’s head hit the table again. “And again, we could… who is your friend?” “

“No, you’re right, you’re going to ruin your career if you start like this,” Erica said. “maybe we can fund a music video through crowdfunding.”

“So it’s not a project! It’s a movie clip! Who wants to see * just * the unicorn scene from Cabin in the Woods? “

Erica sighed. “You realize everyone’s going to run into that wall, don’t you?” Someone is going to bypass the DRM. We are not going to have a festival without films.

“So we urge all the children at this festival to break the law?” Mary asked, her voice muffled by the fact that she was speaking directly into the table.

“The festival is in two weeks,” said Erica. “They probably already have.”

Erica leaned on the desk. ” And now ? “

Two weeks later, Mary was sitting at the cafe with Professor Richard Jenkins across from her.

“Your work was surprising last night,” he said cautiously.

Marie grimaced. She ended up gathering actors and playing each scene as if it were in a movie theater, with homemade props and DIY sets. She hadn’t won any of the festival awards. “I didn’t want to break the DRM of the videos, and I didn’t have three hundred thousand dollars to license the clips,” she said.

“It was a creative solution, but clearly done at the last minute.” He stopped, as if waiting for her to defend herself.

After a while she said, “I know it was. I had to weigh the possibility of being prosecuted for using a video in a perfectly legal manner, or for doing something else. I made my choice. She shrugged her shoulders. “Starting my college career taking internet classes from prison didn’t sound good… do they even allow you to take internet classes from debtors prison?” “

“I don’t know that,” he said. “But I think you would be a good candidate to study copyright and DRM as far as film is concerned, now that you know what it’s like to oppose it.”

She raised her head. “Truly?”

“Don’t get me wrong, your movie was terrible. But I like your style, ”he said. “And I think you would be a good voice for change.”

“Lord knows we need it,” said Mary.

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