Are gamers affected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act? The Entertainment Consumers Association argues that they are. The group has just announced its support for the FAIR USE Actin an attempt to make the world safe for
democracy backing up game discs.
The ECA is a relative newcomer to the political scene. Founded in 2006, it's a nonprofit that wants to represent gamers in a way that the Entertainment Software Association can't. The ESA, despite having the resources to battle bad video game legislation across the country, looks out for the interests of the game developers and publishers.
That's made abundantly clear by the ESA's stance on copyright issues. The group opposes an expansion of the "first sale" doctrine (PDF), opposes expansion of fair use (PDF), and opposes reforming the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision (PDF) that make tampering or bypassing any form of DRM illegal. This means that backing up DVDs and game discs makes criminals of those who do so.
Hal Halpin, the ECA's president, said that he wants to "respect the careful balance that must exist between the rights of copyright owners and the rights of consumers of copyrighted material," but he thinks this can be done "while maintaining consumers' rights, and ability to lawfully use acquired media for non-commercial purposes."
To further that agenda, the group is supporting the FAIR USE Act, introduced earlier this year by Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and John Doolittle (R-CA). That bill attempts to reform the DMCA, but it has few real teeth. Despite the limitations, the Act has incurred the wrath of the RIAA and the ESA, which support the DMCA status quo.
TheAct is a watered-down version of the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, which Boucher and Doolittle have been pushing for years without success. The idea was that circumvention of copy controls would be legal so long as the intended use of the material was legal. In the FAIR USE Act, though, the actual exceptions proved much more narrow and did not include this broad immunity.
Instead, the Act codified the exemptions to the DMCA already created by the Librarian of Congress, which will otherwise need to be renewed every three years. The Act does provide some real protection for device makers; if it passes, it will be much harder to wring massive statutory damages from a company that churns out some gizmo that can be used for copyright violations, so long as it a reasonable person sees that it was not created solely to harm copyright owners.
The upshot is that the FAIR USE Act is good for hardware manufacturers, but only moderately good for consumers.
While the ECA has less political pull than other groups which support the FAIR USE Act (like the Consumer Electronics Association), its support does highlight the fact that the ESA does not speak for gamers. It also provides a small shot in the arm for the bill, which still languishes in committee.