A recent bill introduced by Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) continues to generate interest and support from many in the hacker community as well as civil libertarians. The bill would ensure that "fair use" of copyrighted works continues to be legal, even under the restrictions set forth by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
While copyrights were originally meant as an incentive for artists to release their work to the public, by giving them assurance that their product would not be used unfairly, the DMCA has trampled fair use rights since its passage in 1998. The DMCA's broad powers were most notably abused in 1999 when 2600 was enjoined from distributing DeCSS, a program which gives the public power to access DVD content in the same way as videotapes, CD's, or printed matter. With the lack of fair use provisions in the DMCA, the government ignored all but the criminal potential of DeCSS.
Apparently aware of this fundamental oversight, Congressman Boucher is attempting to make his Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act (DMCRA) into law. The act suggests two key changes to the DMCA, which would protect the rights of the people to engage in activities which are historically important to artists, scientists, and hackers alike.
The bill first ensures that "circumvention devices" like DeCSS may be used legally to engage in fair use - whether that means creating a parody, remixing R2D2's bleeps into a dance track, or just watching a movie. The DMCRA also spells out clearly that circumventing digital copyright measures, in the name of science, must be allowed. Both of these points were argued strongly by 2600 in court, but met little success there.
DeCSS, like any tool, can be used or abused. That prohibiting the tool is not the solution seems to be implicit in Boucher's bill. However, while very positive, it is unclear what effect the DMCRA might have on the 2600/DeCSS situation, or the Justice Department's case against Elcomsoft (which grew out of Dmitri Sklyarov's circumvention of Adobe's eBook protection, and his subsequent arrest). Boucher's summary of the bill states that it "does not authorize hackers and others to post trade secrets on the Internet under the guise of scientific research." The conflict between corporations' desire to protect their trade secrets, and the requirement that certain trade secrets be exposed to enable fair use, will likely continue for some time.