MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Film studies professors have won a long running battle with the movie industry. At stake, the right to copy brief excerpts from DVD's for educational purposes. Movie studios had argued that the practice would lead to more piracy but in new rules that take effect today, the Library of Congress has decided to allow it.
From member station WHYY, Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE: University of Pennsylvania Professor Peter D. Cherny(ph)likes to show his students a DVD clip from the “Sound of Music”.
(Soundbite of movie “The Sound of Music”)
Ms. JULIE ANDRES: (Singing) Do, a dear, a female deer, Re, a drop of golden sun. Me, a name I call myself -
ROSE: He says the VHS version just doesn't do justice to the wide screen effect of the original.
Professor PETER CHERNY (University of Pennsylvania): Kids are put out, you lose the background. Here you can see the full wide screen version. In the DVD the sound is better. The image is clearer. This is actually the way it was meant to be seen originally.
ROSE: But when D. Cherny shows that scene is his classroom, he's breaking the law. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, or DMCA, makes it a crime to crack the digital encryption on DVDs. That's why it's illegal for D. Cherny and other teachers to compile scenes from different movies on one DVD.
Professor CHERNY: It didn't stop me. This was very important and I was willing to break the law continuously to do it. But not every academic was willing to do that and not every university was willing to support them in that position.
ROSE: And that's why D. Cherney lobbied the Library of Congress to create an educational exemption. He's not the first academic to make this argument to the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, which is in charge of crafting any exceptions to the DMCA. In the past the copyright office had decided not to take any actions on the grounds that the situation was merely inconvenient for professors.
But that was not the case this time. In her recommendation Registrar of Copyrights Mary Beth Peters called the prohibition on copying a fundamental impediment to teaching. The new exemption applies only to classroom use and to DVDs held in a college's library. Even so it's an apparent defeat for the movie studios, which argued that an exemption would open the door to piracy. Fritz Ataway(ph) is Executive Vice President of the Motion Picture Association of American who says the exemption should have been narrower still.
Mr. FRITZ ATAWAY (Motion Picture Association of America): If you're simply commenting on the historical context or anything, that does not require a pristine copy. A screen shot from a camcorder is perfectly acceptable. You don't need to circumvent.
ROSE: The Library of Congress added two other exemptions to the DMCA including one for security researchers to test the anti-piracy software on CDs for side effects that could harm consumers. That brings the total number of exemptions to six, but the Copyright Office denied many other requests for exemptions and that's troubling to some of its critics. Corrine McSherry(ph) is a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Ms. CORRINE MCSHERRY (Electronic Frontier Foundation): The fact that there is only six and the fact that all of these exemptions are really focused on very specific narrow classes of people, security researchers, film professors as opposed to exemptions that really broadly protect consumers we consider that a problem.
ROSE: The Copyright Office rejected exemptions that would have allowed consumers to make back up copies of their DVDs or to watch DVDs intended for one part of the world in a different region. The new rules stand for three years and then it's up to the exemptions backers to prove they should continue.
For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.