What is DMCA anti-circumvention?

The primary goal of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is to protect technology, devices, and/or services that are copyrighted.

Anti-circumvention refers to laws that prohibit the circumvention of technological barriers for using a digital good and/or service in a way that the rights-holder doesn’t allow. The requirement for anti-circumvention laws came about with the creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Copyright Treaty in 1996 as it affected countries across the globe.

Section 103  (17 U.S.C Sec. 1201(a)(1)) of the DMCA bluntly states: “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”

For the DMCA, circumvention means that there is a user attempting to “descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner” – assuming that there is a technological measure in place that “effectively controls access to a work.”

Long story short: DMCA anti-circumvention is what makes it explicitly illegal to try to get around technological anti-copying protection. However, there are some notable exceptions in Section 1201 of the DMCA. The Library of Congress is also empowered to create more exceptions. The biggest exceptions right now are:

  • Certain circumvention of digital locks on devices a person owns – like tablest, smartphones, vehicles and more, in order to repair them
  • Certain kinds of jailbreaking and modifying smartphones, tablets and voice assistance devices, is legal
  • Filmmakers, students and ebook creators are able to use video clips more freely than they were previously

Some examples of activities that ARE circumvention:

  • Removal of watermarks from photographs
  • Bypassing DRM in order to copy a game, movie, etc.
  • trafficking in devices or tools that help other people circumvent access-control and copy-control measures