Section 1201 Study

The United States Copyright Office is undertaking a public study to assess the operation of section 1201 of title 17, United States Code, including the triennial rulemaking process to adopt exemptions to the prohibition against circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works.

Enacted in 1998 as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), section 1201 prohibits the circumvention of technological measures employed by or on behalf of copyright owners to protect access to their works (also known as “access controls”), as well as the trafficking in technology or services that facilitate such circumvention. In addition, section 1201 establishes a triennial rulemaking process through which the Librarian of Congress, following a public proceeding conducted by the Register of Copyrights in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce (“NTIA”), may grant limited exceptions to section 1201(a)(1)’s bar on the circumvention of access controls.

Recent rulemakings have highlighted a number of issues concerning section 1201 that appear to be ripe for study, including the role of the anti-trafficking provisions and permanent exemptions, and the requirements of the rulemaking itself. Accordingly, as recommended by the Register of Copyrights, Maria A. Pallante, in testimony and requested by Ranking Member Conyers at an April 2015 House Judiciary Committee hearing, the Office is initiating a study to assess the operation of section 1201 and the triennial rulemaking process, and has issued a Notice of Inquiry requesting public comment.

The Office notes that the scope of this study is limited to the operation and effectiveness of section 1201. Broader issues concerning the role of copyright with respect to software embedded in everyday products will be the subject of a separate, concurrently issued Office study. More information about the Software-Enabled Consumer Products Study is available on the Copyright Office website.