The US Library of Congress has made legal a number of new exceptions to copyright law, allowing the public more rights over their devices and content than previously held. Some of the new provisions even go some way to fixing problems with the notoriously badly-written Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
The most high-profile exception enacted means that American consumers can now use software to unlock the network locks on their mobile phones, meaning that a Sprint phone could be used on Verizon, for instance. This has been commonplace elsewhere in the world for ages - the sale of unlocked phones is massive in the UK - but US phone companies have lobbied hard against the practice.
There is also an exception for cracking DVDs. Film professors wanting to put together compilations of content to educate students will be allowed to use commonly-available DVD ripping software to circumvent the CSS protection on discs. Previously, circumventing copy protection technology in this way would have been illegal under the DMCA.
However, there is no addition to the concept of 'fair use' for general consumers - many hoped that an explicit right to copy DVDs to iPod or other portable media device for personal use would be allowed. This has not been the case, and appears to be a big win for the Hollywood film companies.
Researchers will be allowed to tinker with CD copy protection for the purposes of research, preventing the problem we saw earlier this year with the Sony rootkit - where fixing the outrageous rootkit problem required researchers to break the DMCA law.
All in all, the new provisions are a good step forward for American copyright law, but it still has a long way to go before it can really be said to be as 'consumer friendly' as UK law. We do, however, estimate that the number of geeks immediately starting their own Film School classes will increase exponentially.
Will you be making use of the new exceptions? Let us know over in the forums.