The concept of copyright is morphing before our very eyes. On July 26, Marybeth Peters, the Registrar of Copyrights for the Library of Congress, posted a ruling (PDF) under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows iPhone users, among others, to legally “jailbreak” their phones to run unauthorized apps.

Longtime tech columnist, Benny Evangelista, is all over this story for The San Francisco Chronicle, where he has been a pioneer in the use of podcasts. There are many curious aspects to this ruling.

The first is that it comes from the Library of Congress, not the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The DMCA put some aspects of copyright under the administration of the Library of Congress.

The next? The U.S. government managed to answer an important point of copyright law while people still own iPhones. Comments, such as Apple’s brief, were closed in February 2009. A major copyright ruling in under two years?

In a related ruling, film studios were handed a defeat by the Copyright Office. From a statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website:

The new rule holds that amateur creators do not violate the DMCA when they use short excerpts from DVDs in order to create new, noncommercial works for purposes of criticism or comment if they believe that circumvention is necessary to fulfill that purpose.

Studios have always considered any copying or “ripping” of a DVD to be illegal. The Copyright Office determined it’s legal to lift bits of video off a DVD to make a work of commentary or criticism.

For a great, short take on these rulings, I recommend Emmy-award-winning journalist David Louie, who covers Silicon Valley for KGO San Francisco. The clip below includes two Skype interviews. This should serve as a warning to executives and others to make a video-friendly place in your office/hotel room. You don’t want to look like the schlub with the unmade bed at 1:45 in this video:

Combined with YouTube’s recent copyright victory over Viacom, the path is now clear for thousands of media enthusiasts to make their own videos using copyrighted music, video, and other content. They may post those videos publicly online and even earn revenue from them without having to compensate the copyright owners. Yes, copyright is morphing before our very eyes.

Source: “Copyright law changes spring iPhone users,” San Francisco Chronicle, 07/27/10
Source: “In the matter of Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies” (PDF), U.S. Copyright Office, 07/27/10
Source: “EFF Wins New Legal Protections for Video Artists, Cell Phone Jailbreakers, and Unlockers,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 07/26/10
Source: “Apple, cell carriers lose grip on mobile phones.,” KGO-TV San Francisco, ABC-7, 07/10

Steve O’Keefe is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of SixEstate Communications, and the creator of Newsblogging. He has taught Internet PR at Tulane University since 2001, as well as courses for Stanford University, UCLA Extension and PRSA, among others. Steve wrote the bestselling book “Publicity on the Internet” in 1996.


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