Copyright Office Decides on DMCA Exemptions, July 27, 2010

There's Some Good News. As printed in the Federal Register on Tuesday, July 27, 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office has decided to expand its exemption to allow educators and their students the right to legally bypass CSS encryption on movie DVDs. This is a major victory for those of us (myself included) who petitioned for the exemption to be expanded.

The Copyright Office ruled that college professors and film/media studies students are entitled to bypass CSS encryption to make documentaries and remix videos if they are engaged in "comment and criticism." That's great news for media literacy scholars in the fields of education, communications and literature! But undergraduate students in sociology, physics or literature are not entitled to this exemption, however, presumably because the Register of Copyrights believes that only students learning professional media skills are entitled to manipulate high-quality clips or engage in critical analysis of movies.

Now for the bad news: K-12 educators and their students are not entitled to the exemption -- unless they read the fine print of the ruling. 

Let them Eat Screen Capture. The Register of Copyright believes that K-12 educators don't need such high quality images for their students. The Register states that K-12 teachers could find other legal ways to make clips, like using free online screen capture software like Jing or Screentoaster--- of course, these tools limit them to very short clips. For longer clips, after they buy a legal copy of a movie they want to use in class, they will need to purchase expensive software like Camtasia if they want to use two excerpts from the different versions of the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene for a media literacy lesson. You can read more at the U.S. Copyright Office. At least the Copyright Office has clarified that screen capture is a legal option for fair use purposes. 

Rights for All Who Make Non-Commercial Videos. For K-12 teachers and their students who need to use high-quality clips for videos they want to submit to festivals and for public screenings, the Register of Copyright offers a powerful option. The ruling offers a special exemption to people who make non-commercial videos, enabling them to rip movie clips from copy-protected DVDs if they're using it for comment and criticism and if they genuinely need the higher-quality images. Presumably, any K-12 teacher or student is entitled to this exemption. That is terriic news! So in the end, the Register of Copyright has offered an important ruling that truly supports the good work of educators who are using mass media, popular culture and digital media to support critical thinking and communication skills. 

There are more implications and "next steps" we must take in responding to the decision that I will be discussing here in the next days-- stay tuned.