This is a challenge - to come up with classes of works that should be exempt from the draconian protections (prison time) that Congress gave content owners who put digital locks on their works ... even when use of the work would otherwise be legally permissible.
If you're new to this topic, you can catch up by looking at the infamous 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, partly at 17 USC 1201(a). Part of the deal was that the Librarian of Congress could promulgate exemptions after scheduled periods of public comment.
The Copyright Office is now soliciting written comments due December 1, 2005 and reply comments by February 2, 2006.
The exemptions for the four very-narrow classes of works that were approved last time will expire unless there's a good case to renew them. And of course we need to figure out a way to identify other classes of works that libraries are blocked from, resulting in a loss to public information access.
Here are the four classes from last time. I'm oversimplifying -- the classes are defined more narrowly. This post's continuation gives more detail.
1) Filter block lists
(2) Obsolete or malfunctioning computer programs protected by dongles
(3) Computer programs and video games distributed in obsolete formats
(4) Ebooks that aren't otherwise accessible by screen readers (i.e. for people with disabilities)
As a strange side note, the law itself already has a library exception that I swear I'm not making up. We're allowed to hack into DRM in order to evaluate works for purchase. Basically that means we must get a blue-haired teenager on our staff to hack, as it is still illegal to traffic in hacker equipment. Has anyone ever needed to do this? Vendors want libraries to examine their stuff for purchase.
I've asked some of the usual library copyright crowd if anyone knows how this peculiar library exception made it into law, and no one I asked seems to know the answer. Does anyone out there reading this have a clue (or even a guess)?
Excerpt from DMCA ... at 17 USC 1201(d):
Exemption for Nonprofit Libraries, Archives, and Educational Institutions.—
(1) A nonprofit library, archives, or educational institution which gains access to a commercially exploited copyrighted work solely in order to make a good faith determination of whether to acquire a copy of that work for the sole purpose of engaging in conduct permitted under this title shall not be in violation of subsection (a)(1)(A). A copy of a work to which access has been gained under this paragraph—
(A) may not be retained longer than necessary to make such good faith determination; and
(B) may not be used for any other purpose.
(2) The exemption made available under paragraph (1) shall only apply with respect to a work when an identical copy of that work is not reasonably available in another form.
(3) A nonprofit library, archives, or educational institution that willfully for the purpose of commercial advantage or financial gain violates paragraph (1)—
(A) shall, for the first offense, be subject to the civil remedies under section 1203; and
(B) shall, for repeated or subsequent offenses, in addition to the civil remedies under section 1203, forfeit the exemption provided under paragraph (1).
(4) This subsection may not be used as a defense to a claim under subsection (a)(2) or (b), nor may this subsection permit a nonprofit library, archives, or educational institution to manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, component, or part thereof, which circumvents a technological measure.
(5) In order for a library or archives to qualify for the exemption under this subsection, the collections of that library or archives shall be—
(A) open to the public; or
(B) available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archives or with the institution of which it is a part, but also to other persons doing research in a specialized field.
Full Notice of Inquiry below.