February 28, 2017

Archives for April 2006

Happy Endings

Cameron Wilson at the USACM Policy Blog writes about a Cato Institute event about copyright policy, which was held Wednesday. The panel on the DMCA was especially interesting. (audio download; audio stream; video stream)

Tim Lee, author of the recent Cato paper on the ill effects of the DMCA, spoke first.

The second speaker was Solveig Singleton of PFF, who offered some amazing arguments. Here is her response to the well-documented list of DMCA misuses:

Even if you set aside some of the errors in the Cato paper, you’re left with a set of examples, many of which have happy endings, without any change to the law. Ed Felten’s case, for example. There are other cases. There were lawsuits that were threatened but not brought. Lawsuits that were brought but ultimately failed. Lawsuits that succeeded but on grounds other than the DMCA.

(This is my transcription from the audio stream.)

To call the case of my colleagues and me a “happy ending” takes some real chutzpah. Let’s catalog the happy consequences of our case. One person lost his job, and another nearly did. Countless hours of pro bono lawyer time were consumed. Anonymous donors gave up large amounts of money to support our defense. I lost at least months of my professional life, and other colleagues did too. And after all this, the ending was that we were able to publish our work – something which, before the DMCA, we would have been able to do with no trouble at all.

In the end, yes, we were happy – in the same way one is happy to recover from food poisoning. Which is not really an argument in favor of food poisoning.

She goes on to argue for the efficacy of the DMCA, using the example of Apple’s FairPlay technology (which is used by the iTunes music store):

But … are they [Apple] going to be able to get music developers to the table to negotiate with them to help create this library [of music] if they can’t make some reasonable assurances that that content isn’t going to show up free everywhere else?

Never mind that all of the songs Apple sells are available for free on P2P networks, despite FairPlay and the DMCA. Never mind that FairPlay has a huge and widely known hole – the ability to burn songs to an unprotected CD – which Apple created deliberately.

It’s understandable that DMCA advocates don’t want to give a realistic, straightforward explanation of exactly why the DMCA is needed. If they tried to do so, it would become clear that the DMCA, as written, is poorly suited for their purpose. Instead, we get strawmen and arguments from counterfactual assumptions.

I’ll close with a quote from Emery Simon of the Business Software Alliance, another speaker on the same panel, making a claim so far off-base that I won’t even bother to rebut it:

[If not] for copy protection technologies, whether it’s Macrovision or CSS or Fairplay, my VCR and my television set would be devices no more useful to me than my car without gasoline.

U.S. Copyright May Get Harsher and Broader

Rep. Lamar Smith is preparing to introduce a bill in Congress that would increase penalties for copyright infringement and broaden the scope of the DMCA and other copyright laws, according to a news.com story. (The story seems to get some details of the bill wrong, so be sure to look at the bill itself before drawing conclusions.)

The bill would increase penalties for small-scale, noncommercial copyright infringement beyond even their current excessive levels. For example, noncommercial distribution of copyrighted material worth $2500 or more would carry a maximum sentence of ten years in Federal prison. Even attempting to commit that level of infringment would potentially carry a ten-year sentence. That’s the same maximum sentenced faced by bribe-taking Congressman Duke Cunningham, whose corruption probably cost taxpayers millions of dollars. It’s also more than the average Federal sentence for manslaughter (33 months), sexual abuse (73 months), arson (87 months), fraud (14 months), embezzlement (7 months), bribery (10 months), or racketeering/extortion (72 months).

The bill would also expand the scope of copyright in several respects. Most interesting to readers here is an expansion of the DMCA’s anticircumvention rules.

Recall that Section 1201 of the DMCA bans circumvention of technical protection mechanisms (TPMs), and also bans trafficking in circumvention devices. The Smith bill would expand the trafficking ban, by redefining “trafficking” as follows:

[T]he term ‘traffic in’ means to transport, transfer, or otherwise dispose of, to another, or to make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess, with intent to so transport, transfer, or dispose of.

In short, where the law now bans distribution of a circumvention device, the bill would also ban possession of a circumvention device with intent to distribute it.

This bill, if passed, would probably increase the DMCA’s chilling effect on research. Currently, a researcher can steer clear of the trafficking provision by keeping any circumvention devices to himself, using those devices himself (lawfully) in the lab. If the Smith bill passes, the researcher would have to worry that a plaintiff or prosecutor will misjudge his intent and bring a case, and that a judge or jury might be convinced that the researcher was eventually planning to distribute the device. Even if the claim of bad intent is baseless, refuting it will be slow, painful, and expensive.

I’m eager to hear the rationale for these expansions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if no rationale is offered, beyond the standard “piracy is bad” mantra or vague claims to be “rationalizing” the statute.

Serialized Posts

Lately I’ve found myself writing short series of posts on a single topic, as with the recent sequence of four posts on HDCP security. This is a departure from the traditional style of this blog, where posts were self-contained and the topic would typically change from day to day.

I typically plan out these post series in advance. For example, on HDCP I was pretty sure that there would be four posts, and what their topics would be. Sometimes the plan changes along the way, because writing the early posts, or reading the comments on them, advances my thinking on the topic. But generally I’ll stick pretty close to the plan.

You may wonder why I deliver this content as a series of short quasi-daily posts rather than delivering the whole discussion of (say) HDCP all at once. Part of the answer is that my schedule allows only a certain amount of blog-writing each day, and I would rather publish each piece sooner rather than waiting until it is all done. Another part of the answer is that I suspect there are advantages to letting you see the pieces one at a time and then seeing your comments before writing the next piece.