Billington opens new DMCA loopholes

Summary:James Billington may be the most important person you never heard of, having headed the Library of Congress since well before the Web was spun or the DMCA was even a glint in the RIAA's eye.

You can freely jailbreak your iPhone to add apps. Kindles should be able to use their text-to-speech function. If you want to rip a DVD for your latest YouTube masterpiece, go ahead.

All these new rights come to you via a statement from the Librarian of Congress, dated Friday, executing his once-every-three years review of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its anti-circumvention provisions, under what is known as Section 1201(a)(1) of the copyright code.

Who is this wizard who can, with the wave of a mouse, grant wishes which a host of lawyers cannot grant?

He's James Billington, 81, and he was appointed to his post in 1987, by President Ronald Reagan. A Russian scholar, formerly director of the Woodrow Wilson Center, shown here getting the Presidential Citizens Medal from George W. Bush in 2007, courtesy the Library of Congress.

Just in case you thought he was some kind of hippie.

James Billington may be the most important person you never heard of, having headed the library since well before the Web was spun or the DMCA was even a glint in the RIAA's eye.

His record as Librarian of Congress (LOC) is nothing short of awesome. He has championed the American Memory National Digital Library, opening up 8.5 million artifacts to online inspection. The library's online resources include Thomas, the congressional database, an online card catalog, and the America's Library web site.

It was probably Billington's unassailable reputation for integrity and probity that won the LOC this power under the DMCA. His role is a compromise between industry demands that all efforts at circumventing copyright be forbidden, regardless of motive, and those who believe in fair use.

Essentially the LOC defines the evolving terms of fair use in terms of digital copyright, reporting his findings every three years and acting as judge and jury over changing technology.

Now that the copyright industries recognize the power the LOC has, of course, expect a huge fight over the position whenever Dr. Billington does choose to step aside.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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