Bunnie and EFF Sue US Government over DMCA 1201

This morning Bunnie Huang wrote about his reasons for suing the US Government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA was enacted in 1996 and put in place far-reaching protections for copyright owners. Many, myself included, think these protections became far-overreaching. The DMCA, specifically section 1201 of the act which is known as the anti-circumvention provision, prohibits any action that goes around mechanisms designed to protect copyrighted material. So much has changed since ’96 — software is now in every device and that means section 1201 extends to almost all electronics sold today.

So protecting copyright is good, right? If that were the only way section 1201 was enforced that might be true. But common sense seems to have gone out the window on this one.

If you legally purchase media which is protected with DRM it is illegal for you to change the format of that media. Ripping your DVD to a digital file to view on your phone while on the plane (something usually seen as fair use) is a violation. Want to build an add-on for you home automation system but need to reverse engineer the communications protocol first? That’s a violation. Perhaps the most alarming violation: if you discover a security vulnerability in an existing system and report it, you can be sued under DMCA 1201 for doing so.

Cory Doctorow gave a great talk at DEF CON last year about the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s renewed push against DMCA 1201. The EFF is backing Bunnie on this lawsuit. Their tack argues both that section 1201 is stiffling innovation and discouraging meaningful security research.

If it’s illegal to write about, talk about, or even privately explore how electronics are built (and the ecosystem that lets them function) it’s hard to really master creating new technology. A successful lawsuit must show harm. Bunnie’s company, Alphamax LLC, is developing hardware that can add an overlay to an HDMI signal (which sounds like the continuation of the hack we saw from him a few years ago). But HDCP would prevent this.

Innovation aside, the security research angle is a huge reason for this law (or the enforcement of it) to change. The other plaintiff named in the suit, Matthew Green, had to seek an exemption from the DMCA in order to conduct his research without fear of prosecution. Currently there is a huge disincentive to report or even look for security vulnerabilities, and that is a disservice to all. Beneficial security research and responsible disclosure need to be the top priority in our society which is now totally dependent on an electronically augmented lifestyle.

35 thoughts on “Bunnie and EFF Sue US Government over DMCA 1201

    1. Yeah, we’re keeping those on the more traditional posts that cover a specific project but not on posts like this. They serve a purpose: indicating when a username is being used. For instance, if your username is Sharp Pair of Scissors it’s a lot easier to figure out we’re talking about a person when we say: [Sharp Pair of Scissors] just built a reactor-powered time machine.

      1. I never really understood why you don’t mark up names with an inline element (i.e. span class=”propername” or somesuch, possibly even with microformats) and have CSS amend the brackets (i.e., ::before, ::after). This way your content archive would have semantic meaning on the names and should you ever decide to format them differently, you would only have to change a few CSS properties.

        1. As someone who struggles to update blogs regularly, that would make writing an article such a chore. If every time you type a name, you have to tag it with xml, no one would ever type someone’s name more than once again. Then it devolves into an annoying “WTF is going on!?” reading situation because of an overuse of pronouns. While you might see the benefit as a coder/engineer, all of the continuous work is thrown on the backs of the writers once the framework is done, and formatting a name just in case of some formatting changes at some unspecified unlikely date, is the kind of stuff that causes mental breakdowns and office shootings.

          I think that’s why they don’t bother. Besides, who goes back and reads the old articles and then thinks, “Hey! This is formatted differently!”? Jerks with problems, that’s who.

          1. As a professional WordPress theme/plugin developer (and occasional code contributor and spare time evangelist) I can tell you it’s quite trivial, a dozen lines of code in the right place. After that it’s just highlighting a name and pressing a button, no source code manipulation necessary at all.

            Old articles could be treated in a two-step process: First a quite trivial scan, then a glance at the results to weed out the false positives, then a second pass which treats the old occurrences.

  1. I read a clever discussion of DMCA that I can’t locate at short notice. The gist was, if no-one is allowed to tamper with the protection method under any circumstances then the existing copyright laws become obsolete. You can write your own. You want a thousand year copyright term? Just write that into the protection code. You could force someone to pay for it every time they watch for a thousand years.

    The author felt this would a good way to go to challenge the law and it sounded like a good argument to me.

    1. Theoretically once the legal copyright term is up wouldn’t it become legal to crack the code? It’s no longer protecting copyrighted material. Of course in the real world nothing new is ever going to go out of copyright until Micky Mouse stops having birthdays.

      1. Sure that’s one way to look at it, another way is its my damn money I that I paid to buy MY damn property. Sure I don’t have the right to rip their work off and resale it, but I do have the right to do with it as I please regardless of the law as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. John Deere can get me to sign all the BS contracts they want it will just mean tax payers have to house me for a while because a bunch of idiots passed a bad bill.

  2. Hopefully he isnt spending any money on this effort. Or at least none he wouldnt have spent on something else ‘for fun’.

    The US government will laugh at this line of argument. The entertainment industry here is considered ‘important to national security’ – like all other big biz here is.. We have a technocratic fascist\plutocrat state developing around us at moore-law pacing and efforts like these are just drops in the bucket.

    I am grateful he is taking the effort to do this, even though reading between the lines he has commercial interest in the outcome.. Still I bet he does not have much commercial interest in it and it is mostly a activist move.

    Good luck!

    1. Having a commercial interest likely plays a role in even being able to bring the suit. Things like this get thrown out all the time because the plaintiff can’t show they’ve been harmed.

    1. Only if the USA will exist that long. There was already a try for a “1000 jähriges Reich” (1000 years empire) which didn’t last quite that long. Which was very good in that case.

    1. Okay, wow. That’s a god-tier troll.

      First he’s making claims that he has millions of dollars, has an IMDb, and was a software tester. Because those career paths could ever possibly align. There’s an unbridled arrogance we don’t even see here. He’s actually trolling around the subject of the post instead of the low hanging fruit like the author or simply incorrecting grammar.

      I wish we had trolls of this caliber here. I actually respect that. I know that takes a lot of effort, and I’d like to invite Matthew to our shores.

      1. Has anybody mentioned yet his unofficial AMA on AboveTopSecret (the illuminati/911 trigger site) where he bragged about the fuel efficiency of the BMW 328i he got from a Google employee?

        I mean, this guy is brilliant. The onion should hire him.

      2. I googled that guy. He most certainly is not ‘a troll’.

        That guy is totally mentally ill, and it is actually pretty sad. I was just kidding about inviting him here!

  3. let me ask a question?how pissed would you be if you know people were marketing trillions of dollar off your name and your voice and you’ve never seen a dime of revenue from it or even a hand shack and job well done?
    just so you know I’m making a reference to your reverse engineering comment using digital application. theirs a very fine line and I’m mean very fine,so fine it’s down to the molecular level. I myself have the unpleasant experience of loosing almost 3 years of digitally archived work off line that had been made into a supper compression zip drive that makes all of anyones anything on any kind of compuutattional device stupid Fing fast 27 trillion byts a second fast….the Point I’m marking here is I did reverse engineer something in fact I completely inverted the entire operating system(XP) to be exact and I didn’t have to modify anything, I just so happen the have the perfect format to use in all the base functions that run the defaults within the PC that I was useing. by using this function along with my voice,( their was no actual coding involved. what it comes down to is Windows OS is nothing more than a fancy analog voice recorder converting to a digitally readable view point.
    I’m going to simplify this. If your telling me that the use of my name, witch just so happens to be the place holders used in the hard drive( as people know as 1s and 0s)when applied in a parallel continuously constant in a forward direction by default is illegal your freaking crazy…if anything I have a perfectly good reason to sue every mother Fing person and the people that distributed the licence for it for the software that’s been running since 2007 because it was my voice, that along with me name, that was used to configure everything… let me ask you a question again? think of it like this. the people that supply a band amplification and recording equipment to make music arn’t going around and sueing them afterwards are they? no because their supplying them with a means to amplify and transfer spoken information over a long distance witch is exactly what a personal computer does…so what it comes down to is the government is allowing these big corporations to hide behind a totally abstract patent it’s like trying to say I’m putting a patent on water so now I own those right to it and that would pretty much constitute an imposed default stating that they own you as well as the water because life as we know it can’t live without water and if the own the water by default the own you. most people are too stupid to even realize how they work so by these corporate company’s hideing behind the governments lame ass security protocols and not realizing how unreliable and coast ineffective the infrastructure was going to cost to maintain down the road . now these two are using each other to servive one can’t live without the other and who’s paying for it with or freedom of speech? the people are, and they put it in a nice little packedge and make you think its cool and exiting and call it a smart phone.
    just so you know I’m currently trying to salvage what’s left of the product of my designer… Google in currently trying to reverse engined it as we speak and their doing a pretty good job a violently ripping it to peaches to rewrite the software . heres a example of it , it’s called a chromebook and the Asus phone I’m currently using.screw your stupid copywriter laws on software the only thing that should be pretected is intellectual specification, here’s and example the sound of one’s voice and the idea that’s associated with that voice because if I went around and put a patent on every sound that can be digitally reproduced that would mean I own your ideas before the even come out of your mouth and if if people like you and anyone else continues to think the way you are your All out of you fucking mind!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope this point perspective conclusion of mine gave you people a slap in the face. wake the fuck up!!!!

  4. Trying to fix flawed laws originally intended to fix flawed laws might not be the best target for your efforts?

    Maybe we just need to change the way we think of copyright.

    Possibly to the degree that software is not covered by default, but by application.

    I never understood how first sale doctrine, aka patent exhaustion, applied to patents, but not copyright… specifically software.

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