Circumventing Barriers to Education

Educational Exemptions in the Triennial Rulemaking of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Authored by: Jonathan Band , Brandon Butler , Caile Morris

The Routledge Companion to Media Education, Copyright, and Fair Use

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138638891
eBook ISBN: 9781315637549
Adobe ISBN:


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It is imperative for an educator or librarian to be able to use excerpts from books, scholarly articles, and clips from documentaries and other films as teaching tools for students. While copyright law recognizes and protects this vital practice, other laws complementing copyright law create barriers to educational use. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), for example, makes it difficult to make and use clips from films and other audiovisual works in educational contexts. Congress enacted the DMCA in 1998, in part to bring the United States into compliance with two international treaties. The DMCA did this by including a provision that prohibits circumvention of “technological protection measures” that block certain uses of protected works. This provision became section 1201 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code, which contains the Copyright Act. Circumvention is the unlocking of the digital protection placed on storage media such as DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It is the essential first step that enables copying small clips of motion pictures stored on protected media for purposes of commentary or criticism. The DMCA provides for a rulemaking every three years to determine exemptions to section 1201’s prohibition on circumvention where it has an adverse impact on education and other valuable and lawful uses. Since 2006, the Librarian of Congress has consistently granted exemptions for the purpose of copying motion picture clips for educational purposes. Unfortunately, while the exemptions have grown steadily in scope over time, they have also become very complicated. While the best option to understand your current situation is to consult with your lawyer or general counsel’s office, this guide can help you to navigate the convoluted exemptions in the field of education and to understand more about section 1201 and the whole rulemaking process.

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