Copyright and the Repair of Digital Devices

Copyright and the Repair of Digital Devices

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) prohibits breaking technological locks protecting copyrighted content.  Since the passage of the DMCA almost 20 years ago, many of the devices that we now use on a daily basis are controlled by computer software.  Even if you own the device, you probably only have a license to the software that controls it.  If that software comes with digital locks – technical protection measures (“TPMs”) you cannot fix the device yourself, or take it to an independent repair shop, without violating the DMCA.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others, proposed an exemption to the United States Copyright Office allowing circumvention of TPM protecting programs that control motorized land vehicles, including automobiles and agricultural machinery, for purposes of diagnosis, repair or other improvement.  The exemption granted gives farmers the right to repair the electronic devices on their tractors and combines.  However, the way the exemption is written, it appears that only the owner can make the adjustments to the software and that the exemption excludes repair shops or other third-parties from making modifications to the software.  As a result, unless the farmer is able to modify the software himself, the exemption may not be of much value to the end-user farmer.  To read more about this dilemma read Tinkering with Right to Repair.  To read the Library of Congress’s full list of exemptions to the prohibition on circumvention of copyright protection systems for access-controlled technologies adopted on October 28, 2015, click here.

For more information on this topic, contact your Intellectual Property counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.

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