The Government Just Gave Everyone Permission to Hack Smart TVs

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The Government Just Gave Everyone Permission to Hack Smart TVs

In a decision that looks jaw-droppingly progressive from a technological standpoint, especially by government standards, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress granted an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that give Smart TV users the freedom to “jailbreak” their devices. This will allow “interoperability” between different TVs, and the installation of third-party software.

The decision, which can be read in full here, includes language that addresses the main concern of the movement’s opponents, who contended that it would promote the use of piracy programs like Popcorn Time:

The Register also found that the prohibition on circumvention is adversely affecting legitimate noninfringing uses of smart TV firmware, and that the proposed alternatives to circumvention, such as connecting a laptop computer to the TV, are inadequate, because they would not allow installation of software on the smart TV to improve its functioning as a TV, such as facilitating more prominent subtitles. The Register also concluded that no evidence was submitted to illustrate opponents’ claim that jailbreaking of smart TVs will make it easier to gain unauthorized access to copyrighted content, or that it would otherwise undermine smart TVs as a platform for the consumption of expressive works.”

The fair use decision will also allow benefit documentarians and teachers, as The Hollywood Reporter points out:

Grade school teachers are now being allowed to circumvent access controls on DVDs to do things like create a clip montage of how Shakespeare’s works have been adapted over the years. E-book authors will be able to unlock Blu-ray discs so as to incorporate audiovisual works in their film analysis. Documentary filmmakers are also given broad ability to hack access controls so as to incorporate old works into new ones for purposes of commentary.

The nightmare here is that hackers who don’t wear the white hat will figure out how to watch and listen to us through our TVs, but that was apparently not a legitimate concern for the Copyright Office. The petition was brought by the Software Freedom Conservancy for the office’s triennial review, and included an argument that contrary to unfounded fears, hacking could actually make TVs safer for users.