This Wednesday, May 12th, marks the first time since the DMCA was enacted in 1998 that Congress will hold hearings on legislation to reform it.
The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, or DMCRA, has three important goals:
#1: Warning: You're About to Pay Full Price for a Hobbled CD
The DMCRA would require labels on copy-protected "CDs," letting us know that we can't actually use what we've purchased except under limited circumstances. That's right -- you get advance warning that you're paying the same price for less functionality.
#2: You Get to Reclaim Fair Uses of Digital Media That You Already Have in Analog Media
The DMC_R_A would put the Rights back in the DMCA. The bill amends the DMCA to allow you to circumvent copyright controls on digital media for legitimate purposes -- for example, to make the fair uses that copyright law ordinarily and traditionally allows.
Among other things, this would mean that:
a.) when most scholarly communication, publishing, instruction etc., takes place using digital media/online, our ability to share knowledge and learn from one another won't be a distant and fast-fading memory;
b.) when researchers want to "tinker" to advance our scientific knowledge, they won't face a significant barrier -- like the repeated threat of litigation; and
c.) when librarians seek to preserve our history in digital media, they won't have to wait three years at a time to beg the Copyright Office for the narrowly defined technical ability to do so.
#3: These Will Be Real, Not Phantom/Illusory Fair Use Rights
The DMCRA would affirmatively allow the creation/distribution of devices that circumvent copyright controls, when the devices have substantial non-infringing uses. That means inventors will be able to invent the next VCR or TiVo without asking Hollywood's permission first. And if a researcher has created a circumvention tool for the purposes of researching/testing web-filtering mechanisms, the researcher won't be limited to describing the controversial results. He or she could share the tool with the scholarly community.
There are a few other hot spots for discussion of this bill; check them out, and if you decide that you want Congress to consider the public's rights in digital media, let your representatives know you support it.