Copyright Office: Schools Can't Jailbreak Full Movies, TV Shows for Streaming

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The Copyright Office won't expand allowable circumvention of DVD copyright protections to allow schools to stream full movies or TV shows to students either in class or studying remotely at home. But it will extend the smart TV interoperability exemption to streaming devices.

That is according to the just-released final order on proposed exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibition on circumventing copyright protections for DVDs and other sources of copyrighted content. That was part of the office's eighth triennial review of those exemptions.

The Copyright Office has historically rejected expanding the exemption from prohibition on copyright protected DVDs and Blu-Rays as overly broad. The current language limits the exemption to "short portions" of longer works. It did so again, despite the Biden Administration's support of expanding the exemption.

Copyright holders are historically reluctant to allow for copyright protection circumvention because that makes it easier for the content to be pirated by others and distributed for non-educational purposes.

"The Register concluded that the exemption should not be expanded or amended to cover copying for the purpose of performing full-length motion pictures for educational purposes," the report said.

The Biden Administration had pushed for the full-movie exemption. In a letter to the Copyright Office earlier this month, NTIA said it supported BYU's request to eliminate the "short portion" language in the DMCA, which the school said would allow it to circumvent the encryption on the DVDs in its library so they could be streamed to students having to work remotely during the pandemic.

Also: Copyright Alliance Presses for Protections

BYU also pointed out that computers have been phasing out the optical drives that would let students view its DVD library. "Essentially, BYU asks to be able to 'space shift' the works from one medium to another to facilitate remote learning especially because of the need to provide remote learning as a result of the pandemic," NTIA said in explaining why it supported the circumvention expansion for streaming.

The Copyright Office was unpersuaded.

But streaming did get some extra attention in the exemption for noninfringing circumvention for computer programs that operate smart TVs, smartphones and tablets to allow for the download of third-party software to enable interoperability or the removal of software applications. In addition to the renewal of that exemption, a new, related, exemption was added for video streaming devices.

The new exemption covers "routers and other networking devices....whose primary purpose is to run applications that stream video from the internet for display on a screen. It does not extend to DVD or Blu-ray players or to video game consoles.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.