Look, it's a blue moon: DMCA reform bill introduced in Congress

Summary:Three Democrats and a Republican have proposed a House Resolution entitled the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013. It's actually good governance. Surprised?

We all spend so much of our time justifiably bitching about the incredibly stupid, lobbyist-driven actions of our elected officials. In that context, it's incredibly important to celebrate those few and far between times that our representatives actually do their real jobs: Do good things for our country.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF), better known as the DMCA, is a troublesome piece of legislation. One of the many legislatively regressive darlings of the music and movie industry, the DMCA has long constrained an important element of technological development: Reverse engineering.

The DMCA has vaguely written anti-circumvention restrictions that make simple actions like repairing your car (there's a computer-based sensor adapter you're not allowed to touch) or backing up your DVDs potentially illegal. So if you've made a backup copy of the Barney disk because you know your four-year-old will break it again, you may be breaking the law.

A big problem of the DMCA is that it purposely restricts fair use, and yet illegal copying and piracy goes on with abandon. Part of the problem is that the DMCA is domestic legislation, but the internet is international. If you want to restrict torrent downloads of Game of Thrones, an American law won't prevent a Russian pirate from posting the episode.

Studio behavior is also at issue when it comes to piracy. As I wrote back in March, one way to fight video piracy is to make shows available legitimately .

But this article isn't one of the many that complain about the DMCA. This article is to acknowledge and support actual legislative action intended to fix the DMCA. Seriously. Constructive work from Congress. Whodathunkit?

This, by the way, marks the second time in the space of 90 days that our Congress critters have actually done something constructive. I reported the last time, in March, about the US government requiring security reviews for Chinese tech purchases .

This time, we have three Democrats and a Republican (Zoe Lofgren, Thomas Massie, Anna Eshoo, and Jared Polis) who have proposed a House Resolution entitled the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 (PDF).

This five-page Bill edits the DMCA. Rather than just restricting any reverse engineering or unlocking, it allows reverse engineering unless the purpose is to infringe on copyright. In other words, it puts the fair use back into the law, as it was always meant to be.

In addition to clarifying law about things like backing up DVDs, or attaching your own test equipment to your car to maintain it, or fixing abandoned products that you still happen to own, it allows for the unlocking of cell phones, allowing you to take your expensive device and find the carrier that you want to use without the Library of Congress dictating how you're locked into your phone service.

So far, the Bill doesn't even have an HR number. It's an intelligently written edit, so the chances of it passing are pretty low. But that, boys and girls, is where you come in.

This is when it's time to take to the Twitterverse, to Facebook, to the internet, even to the old-fashioned telephone and call your Congressional representatives (just click here and type in your ZIP code), and tell them you want DMCA reform. While the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013 may or may not be the answer, the DMCA as it stands certainly needs help and has been "buggy" for years.

Oh, and remind them that this is America, land of the free and home of the brave. We want free use, and Congress needs to be brave enough to stand up for what's right.

Topics: Government

About

In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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