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Copyright Law: §1201 for Professors

Selected resources useful for general IP and Copyright research.

THE UNDERLYING LAW: Title 17, United States Code

With the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Congress established a general prohibition on the circumvention of any "technological protection measure" used to limit access to the source material for DVDs and other digital media, even for fair use.  The same provision established a triennial rulemaking procedure to identify classes of works that should be exempted from the prohibition.  These exemptions must enable a noninfringing use — something that is already permitted under the statute, such as the § 110 exemption for classroom performances and displays.

§ 1201. Circumvention of copyright protection systems

(a) Violations Regarding Circumvention of Technological Measures.—

(1)(A) No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.  ...

(1)(B) The prohibition contained in subparagraph(A) shall not apply to persons who are users of a copyrighted work which is in a particular class of works, if such persons are, or are likely to be in the succeeding 3-year period, adversely affected by virtue of such prohibition in their ability to make noninfringing uses of that particular class of works under this title, ....

Video Resources wrt
Legal Issues and Procedures

Places to look for videos about lawyers and law:

  • The ABA Journal's list of "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies."
  • Tarlton Law Library's "Law in Popular Culture" database at the University of Texas (containing over 700 titles and searchable by title or topic).
  • Ted Tjaden's list of law-related movies (link opens to substantive law subject category page).
  • The archives of Picturing Justice, an online journal "on the intersection between law and lawyers on one side and popular culture on the other."  The journal is no longer published, but the archives are still available for the following categories:
  1. Silver Screen (articles about films)
  2. Small Screen (articles about TV programs)
  3. News & Views (articles discussing general issues in popular culture and law)
  • And don't forget the Internet Movie Database, which provides keyword searching of titles, plots, quotes and other indexes.

§1201 Exemption for Higher Education

In 2006, the Librarian of Congress granted an exemption for “[a]udiovisual works included in the educational library of a college or university’s film or media studies department, 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.”  The Librarian indicated that the exemption was based on the need for film and media studies professors to use higher-quality images in their teaching than could be obtained from VHS materials.

Between 2006 and 2009, VHS was abandoned by the media industry as a release format for new works.  In light of the evolving technologies, several academic and special library organizations made requests during the 2009 rulemaking for the prior exemption to be expanded to include all educational uses, because of the logistical difficulties involved in the attempt to display small portions of DVDs in a classroom setting.  The Librarian of Congress granted this request, but only in part.  Film and video clips from DVDs are a new class of materials exempted from the prohibition against circumvention.  The new educational use exemption applies only to college and university professors and higher-education film or media studies students; and as required by the statute, only to activities that are already within the bounds of "fair use."

Subsequent rulemaking proceedings have extended &/or modified the exemption details. Published rules for all eight triennial proceedings are available on the Library of Congress website for §1201. The current exemptions are in force through October 2024.

PDF of the Final Rule regarding the Exemption to Prohibition on Circumvention of Copyright Protection Systems for Access Control Technologies. 86 Fed. Reg. 59627 (October 28, 2021).




The Recommendation of the Register of Copyrights: 

The Librarian of Congress has announced the classes of works subject to the exemption from the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. Persons making noninfringing uses of the following ... classes of works will not be subject to the prohibition against circumventing access controls (17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)) until the conclusion of the next rulemaking.

(1) Motion pictures (including television shows and videos), as defined in 17 U.S.C. 101, where the motion picture is lawfully made and acquired on a DVD protected by the Content Scramble System, on a Blu-ray disc protected by the Advanced Access Content System, or via a digital transmission protected by a technological measure, and the person engaging in circumvention under paragraphs (b)(1)(i) and (b)(1)(ii)(A) and (B) of this section reasonably believes that non-circumventing alternatives are unable to produce the required level of high-quality content, or the circumvention is undertaken using screen-capture technology that appears to be offered to the public as enabling the reproduction of motion pictures after content has been lawfully acquired and decrypted, where circumvention is undertaken solely in order to make use of short portions of the motion pictures in the following instances:

(ii) For educational purposes:

(A) By college and university faculty and students or kindergarten through twelfth-grade (K–12) educators and students (where the K–12 student is circumventing under the direct supervision of an educator), or employees acting at the direction of faculty of such educational institutions for the purpose of teaching a course, including of accredited general educational development (GED) programs, for the purpose of criticism, comment, teaching, or scholarship[.]


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