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An unidentified man fixes an unidentified cell phone. Photo: krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed in 1998, legally blocks consumers from hacking copyright protection software in order to fix a device they own. But a new rule will allow owners to breach copyright protection to fix their broken devices starting on Sunday.

Why it matters: Things break. Cell phone screens, panini press levers and talking toys all fall apart on occasion. But the internal software is sometimes set to make it impossible to conduct unauthorized repairs.

  • Not only does that make repairing things more expensive and impossible to do without the permission of a licensed pro, it means no one could legally fix devices whose manufacturers went out of business.

DMCA was originally intended to prevent file sharing from destroying the entertainment industry. The idea was to prohibit efforts to circumvent the digital rights management (DRM) guarding digital music, books and movies.

But, but, but: Other things besides entertainment media are copyrighted. That includes the software running automobiles, toasters and voting machines (and pretty much everything else that plugs in).

  • Use DRM to block access to that fundamental computer code, and you make it impossible to repair things.
  • Cars are already exempt from this rule.

Every three years, the Library of Congress determines new exemptions to DMCA, a list that currently includes third party testing of medical equipment, devices that read digital books for the blind and other use cases. As soon the new Library of Congress rule goes into effect on Sunday, it will include repairing devices as well.

Details: Specifically, the new rule will allow hacking "computer programs that are contained in and control the functioning of a lawfully acquired smartphone or home appliance or home system, such as a refrigerator, thermostat, HVAC or electrical system, when circumvention is a necessary step to allow the diagnosis, maintenance or repair of such a device or system."

  • It only counts as a repair if it is returning that device to its operating specs, not "fixing" a product by adding new features.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - World

U.S. airstrike kills senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria, DOD says

A displacement camp near the village of Qah in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. Photo: Ahmad Al-Atrash/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. airstrike in northwest Syria on Friday killed senior al-Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Why it matters: Syria serves as a "safe haven" for the extremist group to plan external operations, according to U.S. Army Maj. John Rigsbee.

Updated 13 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.