In late October 2021, the Librarian of Congress granted a new exemption to section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that supports the computational analysis of multimedia, including texts (in the form of encrypted ebooks) and video (in the form of encrypted DVDs). The new ruling opens up exciting new opportunities for digital humanities research in text and data mining which, absent the exemption, would fall under section 1201’s prohibition on circumventing “digital locks” to access copyrighted content. The Samuelson Law Clinic at UC Berkeley Law School put together the petition on behalf of its client Authors Alliance, an organization that advocates primarily on behalf of academic authors. This petition drew upon the expertise of the digital humanities community, and included letters of support from ACH itself, and from numerous of our members. Thank you to all who contributed to this important effort.
These exemptions are an important step towards enabling more scholars to pursue computational research on in-copyright text and video. However, even as we celebrate this decision, we acknowledge it comes with far more restrictions than we would like to see. Circumventing technical protection measures on this data has to be done by a researcher affiliated with an institution of higher education, on materials owned by the institution. We recognize that the security requirements around how the resulting text or video data can be stored and analyzed are onerous, even for scholars at well-resourced research institutions.
The letter of support from ACH helped get us to this point, but this decision is only the beginning of our advocacy and education work in this space. We look forward to partnering with the Authors Alliance and the organizers of last year’s NEH-funded Legal Literacies for Text and Data Mining workshop on future events to raise awareness of what is (and still isn’t) possible with this new exemption, how to navigate using this exemption at your local institution, and how to collaborate with your librarians to advocate for better terms for licensed content.
The scope of this exemption still excludes many researchers, and the security requirements pose an onerous barrier to entry. If you have questions about the new DMCA exemption, would like to get involved, or would like to share your experiences trying to use it for your research, please reach out to ACH exec members Lauren Tilton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Quinn Dombrowski (email@example.com), who can connect you with the community of people currently engaged with these issues.