Last Friday, a new exemption to the decades-old law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act quietly kicked in, carving out protections for Americans to hack their own devices without fear that the DMCA's ban on circumventing protections on copyrighted systems would allow manufacturers to sue them. One exemption, crucially, will allow new forms of security research on those consumer devices. Another allows for the digital repair of vehicles. Together, the security community and DIYers are hoping those protections, which were enacted by the Library of Congress's Copyright Office in October of 2015 but delayed a full year, will spark a new era of benevolent hacking for both research and repair.
"This is a tremendously important improvement for consumer protection," says Andrea Matwyshyn, a professor of law and computer science at Northeastern University. "The Copyright Office has demonstrated that it understands our changed technological reality, that in every aspect of consumers' lives, we rely on code," says Matwyshyn, who argued for the exemptions last year.