U.S. Copyright Chief Marybeth Peters, Who Presided Over Office’s Expansive Influence, to Retire

Copyright September 13th, 2010

, Contributing Editor

Marybeth Peters

SAN FRANCISCO, September 13, 2010 — The U.S. top policy chief in charge of steering and influencing the nation’s positions on copyright issues is to retire by the end of the year, the copyright office announced Monday.

Marybeth Peters became Register in 1994, which the copyright office said is the second-longest term served by anyone other than the first Register ever Thorvald Solberg.

Peters’ tenure at the copyright office saw the world go through its latest technological transition into the digital age, with all the attendant anxieties that accompany each such transition. She was a frequent presence on Capitol Hill, testifying in the numerous hearings that the Senate Judiciary Committee held to address how the nation’s laws should be updated to cope with unfettered file-sharing, as well as over many other more arcane areas of the law.

One of the last big changes in policy under her tenure was the office’s change in direction regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention rules this July.

The Copyright Office granted a requests to exempt iPhone application developers  from being sued for breaking through the encryption on the iPhone’s operating system in order to run non-approved third party applications.

Under the DMCA, no-one’s allowed to break through the digital locks that protect copyright owners’ content unless it’s for a non-infringing use — as defined every three years by the Copyright Office.

The Copyright Office also said it’s legal to break through the content scrambling system on “lawfully made and acquired” DVDs when it’s for comment or criticism, or for educational uses at academic institutions, for documentary film-making or for non-commercial videos, and it renewed an exemption that allows consumers to unlock their cell phones so that they can use their handsets with whichever mobile phone service provider they want.

The office also sanctioned the breaking of digital locks on video games for testing and for security research purposes, as long as “the information derived from the security testing is used primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system or computer network,” and as long as the information is not used to facilitate copyright infringement.

The exemptions were all requests submitted by the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which had been critical of the Copyright Office in the past. In 2006, for example, its lawyers told the Copyright Office that its rule-making process was broken and couldn’t protect consumers, and so it wasn’t bothering to file any requests for exemptions.

Peters started her career at the copyright office in 1966.

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