Good News For Libraries: DMCA Not Applicable

Sure, it’s a brain-dead piece of legislation that simultaneously undermines the longevity of our modern cultural heritage and turns graduate students into criminals, but at least Congress got one part of the DMCA right - even if only by accident. The US Court of Appeals ruled last week that the DMCA doesn’t apply to the government.

So after you get over your revulsion at the apparent hypocrisy involved, stop for a minute and think about what great news this is! If the government is excluded from the DMCA, then that means that public libraries are excluded from the DMCA. So while the Air Force might give a half-hearted Huzzah! for their minor victory in cheating one of their own out of the fruits of his labor, the entire preservation community can throw a big party. Libraries can now legally pay to create DRM-circumvention software, finally giving them a chance to legally create and archive copies that might still be playable in fifty years. We might finally have a chance to save our digital heritage!

And lest you think this is a merely academic, let me point you at my recent tour of the National Audio/Visual Conservation Center. The NAVCC is charged with preserving both analog and digital movies. For the latter, they often come on DVDs, and preserving that today means either capturing and re-encoding an analog version of the movie (not so good) or deciphering the video files with (up until now) illegal software. The difficulty faced really hit home when we toured through a room filled with with dozens of DVD drives, used to capture movies.