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DMCA Exemptions for DRM

Every three years, the U.S. Copyright Office undertakes a rule making to consider whether the DMCA's ban on circumventing technological protection measures (e.g., DRM and other "access control" restrictions) is interfering with noninfringing uses of copyrighted materials.  Each round of rule making is legally in force for only 3 years unless renewed.

In 2010, for example, exemptions were granted for things like using short clips of DVDs for use in documentaries or for making educational clips.

The text of the regulation (17 C.F.R. 201.40) is as follows: "The prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works...shall not apply to...

(1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in the circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

(i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media students;

(ii) Documentary filmmaking;

(iii) Noncommercial videos."


Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) Of 1998


Hudson Valley Community College has designated a Copyright Officer to receive faculty inquiries, statutory notices from copyright owners about infringements and to send statutory notices to affected subscribers:

Copyright Officer
Library-Hudson Valley Community College
80 Vandenburgh Avenue
Troy, NY 12180
Phone: (518) 629-7319

Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law in 1998. The law was an attempt to bring U.S. copyright law in line with world wide copyright treaties and to address some of the issues dealing with digital content. The law is broken down into 5 “titles”. The most important for educators are Titles 1, 2 and 4.

Title 1

Title 1 contains a provision that prohibits the implementation of technological means of circumventing copy protection measures. Specifically, it outlaws measures that:

  • Are primarily designed or produced to circumvent.
  • Have only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent.
  • Are marketed for use in circumventing.

There are exceptions made for nonprofit libraries and educational institutions. These exceptions include circumvention for the sole purpose of determining if you wish to obtain full authorized access to the work. In addition, there are provisions for:

  • Reverse engineering of computer programs to achieve interoperability.
  • Encryption research to identify flaws and vulnerabilities.
  • Incorporation of circumvention in order to prevent minor’s access to harmful materials on the Internet.
  • Circumvention to remove private information from being collected and disseminated online.
  • Circumvention for the purpose of testing security of a computer, computer system or network.

Title I also established stiff fines and even jail penalties for willful violation of these provisions.


Title 2

Title 2 also called the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA) sets limits of liability of Internet service providers. Since most colleges run their own Internet services, they are in fact ISPs. In order to maintain this protection, ISPs must act as soon as they are notified of an infringement.

HVCC maintains its limited liability as long as:

  • It does not have actual notice of the infringing activity or knowledge of circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent or, if it becomes aware of such acts, expeditiously to remove it.
  • It does not receive a financial benefit from the infringing activity.
  • Upon notice of the infringing activity, it responds expeditiously to remove or disable the material.
  • It has an agent designated to receive notifications whose name, address, phone number, and e-mail address are available on its website and registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. (17 U.S.C. §§ 512(a), (b), (c), and (d).)
  • For specific provisions of the DMCA that apply to faculty websites, see 17 U.S.C. Sec. 512(e).


Title 4

Title 4 of the DMCA contains 6 “miscellaneous provisions.” The ones that will interest educators the most are:

2. c. which adds web-casting to the protected performance rights of the copyright holder. In other words you do need a license or permission to web-cast copyright protected audio, including music.

3. which required the copyright office to report to Congress on the promotion of distance education. This has led to the TEACH Act and the Nov. 2006 ruling from the Library of Congress that expanded the works exempted from the circumvention statute to 6 additional special cases:

  • Audiovisual works …when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of making compilations of portions of those works for educational use in the classroom by media studies or film professors.
  • Computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete …A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace. Computer programs that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.
  • Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work (including digital text editions made available by authorized entities) contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format

4. grants nonprofit libraries the right to make back-up copies that transform audio to newer technology and aids in preservation.


DMCA Case Law

Universal Studios v. Reimerdes, (2001) - Defendants were sharing software that could enable users to view DVD movies on various operating systems.  The DVDs had a content scrambling system (CSS) permitting viewing but not copying and only on certain players.  Defendants' website had a link to sites where users could find and download a program to circumvent the protective CSS system and view and copy the film on other DVD players.  Court found defendants had violated anti-circumvention law of DMCA.

Chamberlain, Inc. v. Skylink Technologies, Inc. (2004) - Skylink manufactured a universal remote control that could operate garage door openers made by various companies, including Chamberlain.  Chamberlain charged that Skylink's device circumvented copyrighted computer codes embedded in Chamberlain's equipment and violated the DMCA. The court in Chamberlain noted the statutory definition of circumvention as explicitly referencing unauthorized access.