Much of what we consider when thinking of copyright concerns centers around how we interact with works created by others: is something being misappropriated or misused by someone else who doesn't have the authority to do so, or simply taken without compensation in the case of piracy? Left unconsidered is the copyright questions that exist within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) surrounding things bought and paid for by consumers, and what rights they have to alter those products after paying for them.
Manufacturers have long used a provision in the DMCA that prevents the unlawful circumvention of technological measures to access copyrighted works to stop individuals from repairing or tinkering with products that they purchased. What is ostensibly a measure to prevent violation of the manufacturer's copyright has become a tool to boost bottom lines; there's no money in letting people repair their own devices, but there's considerable profit in having them pay to repair or even replace their broken devices. And given how integral software has become, not only with the prevalence of devices but its inclusion in so many other everyday objects, the issue of restricting access to repair has become an issue for many consumers.
In response to those concerns, the U.S. Copyright Office has lifted the restriction set forth in section 1201 of the DMCA that handcuffed hackers and the self-repair crowd alike. Among other things, the new guidelines will allow users to jailbreak new as well as used phones, repair their home devices and appliances, and fix their vehicles by altering the on-board software. For the less technologically adept, the new guidelines also allow owners to pay to have someone do these fixes for them.
The new rules haven't quite set up a free-for-all for every electronic gadget or device. The USCO has a specific list of exempted devices available in their FAQs on the topic, and while the list covers a number of the things many of us use on a daily basis, it's far from comprehensive given just how many devices there are, and how many things now include software. But it is a considerable list regardless, and a far greater freedom that was previously enjoyed by those looking to repair or hack their devices. And if you are inclined to see the measure as progress, it would certainly seem a big step in the right direction.