DMCA Exceptions To Allow Router Firmware Replacement

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Human rights organizations Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have make amendments in the “Law on Copyright in the Digital Age” (DMCA, Digital Millennium Copyright Act ), adding firmware to the router in the list of exceptions, which are not subject to restrictions DMCA.

Every three years, a special committee convenes at the US Library of Congress, which, during a public hearing, decides to revise the list of exemptions describing situations to which the DMCA law cannot apply. This list is formed to protect against possible abuse and unreasonable restrictions that can be promoted under the guise of the DMCA, without being the object of copyright infringement.

Exceptions approved this year allow the installation of alternative firmware on routers and other network devices (including jailbreaking and bypassing bindings to firmware with DRM). The exception gives the user the option to extend the life of their device after the manufacturer’s support has expired by installing an alternative firmware such as OpenWrt.

Exceptions have also been approved that allow legally conducting research on device firmware in order to identify and confirm a possible violation of copyleft licenses that require the opening of derivative works. The exception applies to all types of devices, except for game consoles.

Previously existing exclusions related to the permission to unlock, change firmware, repair and install applications, regardless of whether they are approved by the manufacturer or not, previously in force for smartphones (jailbreak), tablets and other mobile devices, have been expanded with regard to the possibility of replacing the software filling of smart TVs.

The categories of devices for which there are exceptions have been expanded, allowing you to independently carry out repairs. Draft Right to Repair seeking exemption for the repair of any device, and this year could be close to the target. Amendments approved to allow diagnostics, maintenance and repair of any consumer device, including e-readers, disc players and smart speakers, as well as the repair of vehicles, ships and medical devices. For medical devices, both repair and retrieval of data stored on its own device is allowed, regardless of whether the device is implanted or not.

Exceptions related to decryption of materials from DVD, Blu-Ray and online services, which are used to compose remixes with the inclusion of individual video clips, have been extended. The DMCA also removed computer games and game consoles, the manufacturers of which have stopped supporting their products (fans of computer games can legally make changes to old game applications and game console firmware to bypass the bindings to external game services and authentication servers). Exceptions to allow the use of alternative materials in 3D printers have been extended.

A request to include privacy studies in an extended exemption was not granted, allowing security researchers to analyze software products to identify vulnerabilities and to fix vulnerabilities themselves. The Commission concluded that such a change was unnecessary as privacy studies fall within the definition of security studies and do not require a separate exemption.

The amendments allowing the repair of game consoles (repair of game consoles is limited by the possibility of self-replacement of optical drives) and devices with firmware used for commercial or industrial purposes, with the exception of vehicles and medical devices, were not approved either. For example, self-repairing and changing the settings of a robot vacuum cleaner is considered illegal.

Among the unresolved issues, it is also noted that there are no exceptions for the distribution of tools used for repairs – the supply of utilities that bypass the manufacturer’s locks is still considered illegal. It is noted that the commission does not have the authority to adopt an exception on this issue, as it requires reforming legislation. Thus, a situation arises that the user has received the right to independently change the firmware and bypass the binding to peripheral devices on his Xbox, but distributing the code to carry out such actions is illegal.

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