The court denied Chamberlain’s motion for summary judgment. Although this is only a ruling on a preliminary motion, the judge used it to offer her analysis of how the DMCA applies to the apparent facts in the case. In short, she ruled that it is not a violation of the DMCA for Skylink to make a replacement remote control that can open Chamberlain-brand garage door openers.
Chamberlain uses a simple cryptographic protocol to authenticate the remote (the small push-button device you keep in your car) to the opener (the big unit attached to the garage ceiling). The purported purpose of this is to prevent bad guys from recording the signals sent by the remote, and replaying them later to open the door when the homeowner is gone. The protocol includes a resynchronization mode that is used when the remote and the opener somehow get out of sync. Skylink’s replacement remote uses the resynchronization mode every time. Chamberlain argued that by doing this Skylink was circumventing Chamberlain’s authentication protocol, and that the protocol controls access to the copyrighted software running in the opener. Chamberlain concluded that Skylink’s actions ran afoul of the DMCA’s ban on devices that circumvent (without permission) measures that control access to copyrighted works.
The judge ruled that Skylink was not violating the DMCA, essentially because consumers have permission to open their own garages. You might think this sensible conclusion was easy to reach, but it was not. The judge’s problem was that in a previous DMCA case (Universal v. Remeirdes) a court had ruled that consumers do not have permission to view their own DVDs, except on devices “authorized” by the copyright owner. (To be more precise, the Remeirdes court ruled that whatever permission consumers had did not create an exception to the DMCA.)
The toughest part of the Chamberlain judge’s opinion is the part that tries to reconcile her ruling with the previous Remeirdes ruling. (This is on pages 25 and 26 of the ruling, if you’re reading along at home.) I have to admit I don’t fully understand this part of the judge’s ruling. Ernest Miller at LawMeme is scornful, saying that the judge used tortured reasoning, based on artificial distinctions between the cases. Derek Slater says that the judge should have simply admitted that her ruling is inconsistent with Remeirdes. (She is allowed to be inconsistent, because Remeirdes was decided in a different circuit and so is not binding precedent for her.)
I’m not sure what to think about this. I hope the issue will become clearer after more discussion.