DMCA The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: More Strangeness

DMCA cases sometimes test the limits of the 1998 copyright law which Congress passed in the hope of limiting Internet piracy. It has been used by copyright holders to pursue people who distribute computer programs that unlock copyrighted content such as DVDs or encrypted e-books.

Confidentiality of security techniques is a big item for copyright holders, and on the other side free-speech advocates say restrictions on academic discussions of encryption violate the First Amendment.

Adobe Systems persuaded the Justice Department to prosecute Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer who allegedly violated the DMCA by writing an e-book unscrambler. Charges against Sklyarov were eventually dropped in exchange for his testimony in his company's trial.

The DMCA was used to stop 2600 magazine (a hacker publication) and have them delete a DVD-descrambling utility from its website.

Apple Computer invoked the DMCA to prevent its customers from burning DVDs on external drives. Oddly enough, the action was against an Apple DEALER who offered a patch to Apple's iDVD burning software. In unmodified form, iDVD does not permit writing to external drives manufactured by third parties.

Copyright law for printer toner cartridges?

In one of my favorite out-there uses of the DMCA, Lexmark filed a suit against Static Control Components in an effort to stop the toner cartridge remanufacturing industry. Lexmark is the No. 2 printer maker in the United States, behind Hewlett-Packard, and manufactures printers under the Dell Computer brand. Lexmark claims that Static Control violated the DMCA by selling its Smartek chips to companies that refill toner cartridges and undercut Lexmark's prices. Under section 1201 of the DMCA, it is generally unlawful to circumvent technology that restricts access to a copyrighted work.

In a complaint filed in December 2002, the company claims the Smartek chip mimics the authentication sequence used by Lexmark chips and unlawfully tricks the printer into accepting an aftermarket cartridge. That "circumvents the technological measure that controls access to the Toner Loading Program and the Printer Engine Program," the complaint says. In 2004 (the court plods on), a federal court ruled that SCC can continue selling their chip.

Stop using that video iPod for video!

Apple's first video iPod (using iTunes software) didn't allow you to transfer a legally purchased DVD to the iPod. Why? Blame Congress. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act. makes it a federal offense to sell or distribute software that can rip DVDs, so Apple is guilty if iTunes transferred DVDs to an iPod as easily as it can music from a CD.
The newest video iPod changes this and could start some discussion on DMCA again.
"Our best hope for getting amendments to the DMCA is for more regular consumers to feel the pinch of the DMCA," says Fred von Lohmann, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Stop that researcher #1

Hewlwtt-Packard (HP) threatened to sue a team of researchers who publicized a vulnerability in the company's Tru64 Unix operating system. They warned SnoSoft, a loosely organized research collective, that its members "could be fined up to $500,000 and imprisoned for up to five years" for its role in publishing information on a bug that lets an intruder take over a Tru64 Unix system. This seems to be the first time the DMCA has been invoked to stifle research related to computer security.

Stop the researcher #2

The case had an abrupt reversal, but SunnComm Technologies was set to sue a Princeton University graduate student who published a paper that describes how to bypass CD copy-protection technology simply by pressing the Shift key. SunnComm had gone after Princeton doctoral student John "Alex" Halderman just a day before, claiming that his academic paper was "at best, duplicitous and, at worst, a felony." The company had pledged to file a civil suit against Halderman under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and lobby federal prosecutors to indict him on criminal charges.

SunnComm CEO Peter Jacobs acknowledged his threat to file a lawsuit was a mistake. "I felt the researcher has an agenda, which he does," he said. "But that's not relevant, and I learned that...The long-term nature of the lawsuit and the emotional result of the lawsuit would obscure the issue, and it would develop a life of its own."

Stop the researcher #3

A music industry group tried to block publication of research that describes anti-piracy technology known as watermarking, saying a report stemming from an industry-backed hacking challenge violates digital copyright law. The researchers led by Princeton University Professor Edward Felten cracked the code to four watermark schemes being considered as a secure digital music standard. Then attorneys for the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) (a music industry-sponsored group formed to protect digital songs from piracy) contacted the team hoping to stop it from publishing the research. "Your contemplated disclosure appears to be motivated by a desire to engage in scientific research that will ensure that SDMI does not deploy a flawed system," their letter said. "Unfortunately, the disclosure that you are contemplating could result in significantly broader consequences and could directly lead to the illegal distribution of copyrighted material."


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