A new exemption to Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) allows video game users to repair their own consoles.
your video game console was illegal until the Copyright
Office granted a new DMCA exemption this October.
Over the past year, many of us turned to video games to cope with the stress of the global pandemic. As a result, the demand for video game consoles increased, and console manufacturers, like Nintendo, struggled to keep up. So, what happens when your unit breaks? Can you fix your own console?
The answer used to be that you risk facing a fine of up to $150,000 and possible imprisonment for attempting to repair your own console. This is because of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA, enacted in 1998, is an amendment to the Copyright Act that attempts to update the law to address important parts of the relationship between copyright and the internet. Specifically, Section 1201 of the DMCA is directed to preventing circumventions of technological protection measures (TPMs), like bypassing a password system, as long as the digital locks protect access to material protected under copyright law. Sony and Microsoft, for instance, use these digital locks to prevent consumers and third parties, like repair game shops, from accessing the hardware to repair consoles. The only legal way consumers can repair their own devices is by using the limited number of authorized repair services (usually owned and operated by the manufacturers). This option takes a long time and is often so pricey that you’d be better off buying a new one.
year, iFixit and consumer-advocacy group Public Knowledge filed a petition to the Copyright Office requesting an exemption to
Section 1201 of the DMCA to repair video game consoles. The Copyright Office
reviews exemption requests every three years and issues recommendations to the
Librarian of Congress on giving certain exceptions to Section 1201 of the DMCA.
October, the Copyright Office released its recommendation to the Librarian of
Congress to grant this exemption, which the Librarian eventually adopted. The
new exemption allows consumers and third parties to bypass the digital locks
solely to repair optical drives. This means you can repair your own console
without sending it to the manufacturer.
opposed the console-repair exemption arguing that it will enable piracy and
other unauthorized use of the copyrighted work that is in the consoles, such as
movies, sound recordings, and television shows. The Register rejected their
argument under the fair use doctrine and concluded that the exemption has a
limited purpose of restoring the functionality of consoles.
console-repair exemption, however, is limited to consoles that have optical
drives. This means that if your Nintendo Switch, PS5 digital, or Xbox Series S break, you cannot repair
it on your own or by using an affordable third party repair service.
Notwithstanding the limitation, the console-repair exemption is a significant
step toward DMCA reform.