The Library of Congress has published six exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which criminalises duplication of material copyrighted to someone else. The exemption is from punishment for breaking the kinds of copy controls on material which are designed to stop unauthorised duplication.
One of the six exemptions is for computer software or games for the purposes of preservation, but only if the original machine, format or technology involved is obsolete.
The ruling grants exemption to "computer programs and video games distributed in formats that have become obsolete and that require the original media or hardware as a condition of access, when circumvention is accomplished for the purpose of preservation or archival reproduction of published digital works by a library or archive".
"A format shall be considered obsolete if the machine or system necessary to render perceptible a work stored in that format is no longer manufactured or is no longer reasonably available in the commercial marketplace," it says.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit project started in 1996 to create a complete record of the increasing amounts of digital information being created as the internet developed. It now archives 20 terabytes of data a month and has two petabytes (two million gigabytes) of data stored in it.
The Library of Congress's other exemptions to the DCMA include permission for users of mobile phones to circumvent the technology which makes the phone only work with one network. Another exemption allows the duplication of 'dongle protected' software where the dongle has been damaged and a replacement is no longer available.
Another exemption allows educational establishments to 'break' digital rights management (DRM) technology for audiovisual works to be used by media studies or film classes, while another exemption that allows users to bypass DRM on CDs in order to test and fix DRM technology which might damage the user's computer.
"Thanks to the hard work of two great law school students of Peter Jaszi of American University, Jieun Kim and Doug Agopsowicz, the Internet Archive and other libraries may continue to preserve software and video game titles without fear of going to jail," said a statement from the Internet Archive.
"This is a happy moment, but on the other hand this exception is so limited it leaves the overall draconian nature of the DMCA in effect," said the statement. "A total of more than $50,000 of pro-bono lawyer time has been spent to just affect this exemption and its continuation. We hope that Congress, and other governments, will pass more balanced copyright laws to allow at least libraries, archives, research and scholarship to flourish without the current dark clouds of litigation."
The British Library has been involved in similar lobbying and wants copyright law to change so that it can store digital material without breaking the law. It has sent its copyright reform manifesto to the government.