1996 saw the signing of two treaties by the World Intellectual Property Organization that obligated the United States and other signing countries to adopt laws which strengthened the legal standing of copyright laws and digital rights management (DRM) technology. In accordance with these treaties, the United States passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998, criminalizing the act of producing and distributing or selling any device or service which is designed to circumvent DRM technologies, as well as criminalizing the very act of circumventing these access controls, regardless of whether the copyright protected by the DRM is violated or not. Additionally, the DMCA extended the reach of copyright laws, while simultaneously limiting the liability of online service providers who could otherwise have been held responsible for the illegal actions of their users.
Included in the language of the DMCA were specific exemptions that were designed to protect the reasonable function of online service providers and internet service providers by limiting their liability for the actions of their users, as well as empowering and requiring that the Librarian of Congress issue additional exemptions every three years in any situation where it can be shown that DRM technology has a significant negative effect on the ability of an individual to use copyrighted works in a way which does not violate the copyright. According to a prominent lawyer affiliated with C816, these exemptions expire every three years and must be resubmitted in the next rule making cycle, which has resulted in sets of rules that were established in 2000, 2003, and 2006 no longer being valid. The following are the currently valid exemptions issued by the Library of Congress in July of 2010:
- Circumventing DRM in order to incorporate short portions of copyrighted video material for the purpose of comment or criticism, in which the individual circumventing the DRM believes that the circumvention is necessary to fulfilling their purpose in educational use, documentary filmmaking, and noncommercial videos.
- E-books literary works that prevent use of a read-aloud function or specialized format screen readers, provided that all existing e-book editions contain the protections.
- Circumventing access-controlled technology in order to allow interoperability between software applications and computer programs on wireless devices
- Video game testing for the purpose of promoting the security of a computer’s user or owner, and the information derived from the circumvention is used in a manner which does not aid in infringement.
- Firmware or software on mobile devices that connect to wireless networks, when the circumvention of DRM is solely in order to connect to a wireless network and is allowed by the network operator.
- Circumventing computer programs that use dongles as protection against access due to improper functioning, as long as the dongles are no longer manufactured or a repair is no longer reasonably available.
These rules will remain in effect and be used to justify the circumvention of DRM until they are brought up for review again in 2013, at which time they will either be renewed or discarded as appropriate.