Boucher Puts DMCA Reform on the Back Burner

by on February 28, 2007 · 10 comments

I’ve got a lengthy analysis of Rick Boucher’s latest copyright reform legislation. Despite being titled the “FAIR USE Act,” and despite the fact that Boucher’s press release focuses on the harms of the DMCA, the bill itself would do little or nothing to remedy the problems created by the DMCA:

If Boucher’s legislation passed, a film studies professor would be permitted to use software such as Handbrake to circumvent the copy protection on DVDs and create an audiovisual presentation featuring scenes from various movies. However, developing or distributing Handbrake in the United States would still be a crime.

Obviously, as a practical matter, that college professor already has the ability to use Handbrake without any real fear of prosecution. The MPAA knows that prosecuting a college professor for showing videos in his class would be a PR disaster. The problem is that, unlike previous versions of the legislation, Boucher’s new bill offers no legal protections for the developers of software like Handbrake. As a result, the tools required to exercise fair use are difficult to find, not as user-friendly as they could be, and not supported by major software companies like Apple and Microsoft. Perhaps worst of all, the law makes it impossible for legitimate software firms (in the United States, at least) to develop new software to make innovative uses of content obtained from DVDs, iTunes, or other DRM-encumbered formats. In the 1990s, software companies developed MP3 software that revolutionized music over the objections of the recording industry. An entrepreneur wanting to do the same thing for DVDs would run afoul of the law–and Boucher’s legislation would do nothing to change that.

Needless to say, this is disheartening to those of us who see DMCA reform as a high priority. Granted, Boucher’s bill didn’t go anywhere in previous sessions of Congress, and would likely have been a long shot again this session. But it was still nice to at least have somebody in Congress carrying the torch. Now, it doesn’t look like anyone will introduce meaningful DMCA reform in this session of Congress.

What’s going on here? Read the rest of the article for my take on Boucher’s apparent change of priorities.

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