DMCA Vs Hacker

This week featured a large kerfuffle over a hack that you probably read about here on Hackaday: [Neutrino] wedged an OLED screen and an ESP32 into a Casio calculator. REACT, an anti-counterfeiting organization, filed DMCA copyright takedowns on Casio’s behalf everywhere, including GitHub and YouTube, and every trace of [Neutrino]’s project was scrubbed from the Internet.

The DMCA is an interesting piece of legislation. It’s been used to prevent people from working on their tractors, from refilling printer ink cartridges, and to silence dissenting opinions, but it’s also what allows us to have the Internet that we know and love, in a sense.

In particular, the “safe harbor” provision absolves online platforms like YouTube and GitHub from liability for content they host, so long as they remove it when someone makes a copyright claim on it. So if a content owner, say Casio, issues a takedown notice for [Neutrino]’s GitHub and YouTube content, they have to comply. If he believes the request to be made in error, [Neutrino] can then file a counter-notice. After ten to fourteen days, presuming no formal legal action has been taken, the content must be reinstated. (See Section 512(g).)

cardboard cnc machineBoth the takedown notice and counter-notice are binding legal documents, sworn under oath of perjury. Notices and counter-notices can be used or abused, and copyright law is famously full of grey zones. The nice thing about GitHub is that they publish all DMCA notices and counter-notices they receive, so here it is for you to judge yourself.

Because of the perjury ramifications, we can’t say that the folks at REACT who filed the takedown knowingly submitted a bogus request in bad faith — that would be accusing them of breaking federal law — but we can certainly say that it looks like they’re far off base here. They’re certainly not coders.

The good news is that the code is back up on GitHub, but oddly enough the video describing the hack is still missing on YouTube.

But here’s how this looks for Casio and REACT: they saw something that was unflattering to a product of theirs — that it could be used for cheating in school — and they sent in the legal attack squad. If that’s the case, that’s rotten.

This article is part of the Hackaday.com newsletter, delivered every seven days for each of the last 200+ weeks. It also includes our favorite articles from the last seven days that you can see on the web version of the newsletter.

Want this type of article to hit your inbox every Friday morning? You should sign up!

46 thoughts on “DMCA Vs Hacker

      1. And nobody uses them. Most modern music production has moved on to computer software defined synthesizers and midi control interfaces. Nobody uses the ol’ Casio keyboards to jam out jingles anymore. Casio can send their legal donkeys after me but that’s the truth. Screw ’em.

        1. The circuit bending community would disagree. They still find plenty of use. Hopefully Casio won’t go that far but I totally agree with you it is not in Casio’s best interest to scold the only users of their aging gear.

          1. The SK1 was one of the first really affordable samplers. The CZ101 is certainly on par with the DX7, and some like it even more.

            They were behind, and playing catch-up all the time, but some of there stuff has a quirky charm all of its own.

  1. The video for the hack was up earlier in the week, maybe they DMCA’d the code first as a distraction? I ended up reading other DMCA requests, most amusing was one for an avatar, and the other amusing one was the BSA DMCAing an IBM account. But I suppose IBM deserves it for labeling their themes as “IBM Confidential”

  2. This is a lot like saying you can’t drop a Dodge V8 engine into your old Ford Pinto. I can’t see how the DMCA would have any legal applicability in this case at all. If he disassembled Casio firmware, yes maybe, But just reusing the carcass of a calculator?? Well, if push comes to shove, it all depends on who has the most well paid lawyers. You can get all the justice you can afford in this society.

    1. > I can’t see how the DMCA would have any legal applicability in this case at all.

      It doesn’t, but it still allows corporations to shut you up by forcing the content host to take you down – at least temporarily – while they try to figure out a proper legal response to shut you down for good, or harass you as much as possible.

      1. The real problem with DMCA is that it lacks any anti-abuse mechanisms. In real world if you call an emergency service with false alarm, you might end up paying a fine, or covering the expenses of emergency service going into action for no reason, or even end up in jail; depending on country you are in. With DMCA anyone can harass any content creator with no legal problems. And the victim has no real legal way to fight back. But that happens when corporations make laws in USA to protect themselves…

        1. That’s why it’s limited in time. If no legal action is take after a while, the content is back up and you’ve used up your chance. You can’t DMCA it again. Of course that’s a nuisance, but a relatively small one, considering the Streisand Effect it has, such as in this case.

        2. The thing is, there’s always going to be something akin to DMCA because the state and the corporations want control over what people can say – any control. The smart thing is to give them exactly what they want – at least in principle – but with enough loopholes to render it ineffective. That’s exactly what the DMCA is. It’s a law that allows corporations a “tool” to suppress free speech, but it doesn’t really work when push comes to shove – it only intimidates those who don’t know any better. For the rest, it’s not a showstopper but a means to further publicity.

          It is the least evil; if the corporations that run the state really wanted to, if the people at the handle of power really understood what they’re doing, we would have much worse regulations to deal with.

    2. It’s applicable because it’s one of the few ways to try and silence other people without any legal consequences.
      If Casio resorted to threats of violence or physical violence, they *might* end up in legal trouble. It’s at least a risk they don’t need to take.
      With the DMCA then Casio doesn’t need to involve the legal system at all, it’s risk free for them.

    3. No, I don’t think it is applicable. It can certainly be (and is being) misapplied to shut this fellow down. Sometimes just a bit of sword rattling from an important sounding lawyer/corporation is enough to send someone running for their life for good. Right or wrong, do I have the money to fight this?

      I am trying to remember the proper legal lingo. If this went to court, they would have to prove that this particular law had something to say about this particular situation. But in any case, the DMCA sucks. But we all know it is there to “protect” the people with money and money is what makes things happen in this country.

      1. First of all, the sword rattling can and usually does backfire. There was a case of famous youtuber in my country, who bought meat from particular “premium” manufacturer and reviewed it on his channel. His review was basically showing, how low quality the meat was. They threatened him with legal action for that, they tried to harass him, to force him to remove the video. This backfired against them extremely hard. Everyone attacked that company for this…

        Second, if you are a small content creator, or designer, and some big company tries to steal your work, DMCA will protect you as long as you can prove that they tried to steal your work…

        1. Good luck on that one. The way the US legal system works is they take and you get to pay to stop them. If you are small you can’t. The best case is usually after they crush you, they buy you for a pittance and wind up with our IP in their portfolio. If you think the DMCA is going to ever help you, IMHO you have been running your car too long with the garage door closed.

        2. This is true. We use DMCA to get bootleg copies of Hackaday taken down, and it usually works. There are serious legal/financial repercussions to filing a false counter-notice, and the scammers seem unwilling to take that risk.

          But it can also be abused. The 10-14 day thing is hell for YouTube content creators, for instance, who get most of their views in the first few days that it’s out. Never mind YouTube’s own “strikes” system…

          It’s complicated.

    4. Of course they want this wiped off the face of the earth.

      Casio and TI make big bucks in the educational market with calculators that have no persistent memory or consistent verifiable memory wipe features. They get in with textbook publishers to include directions specific to their products in educational materials.

      There is no educational advantage to these calculators other than consistency in course materials and low cost compared to a full computer. At least that was the argument years ago. But now with a low-end Chromebook being close in cost to a mid-range graphing calculator and far more capable, there’s no other explanation other than cronyism to require students to have one at all.

      1. Examination in US and Europe. However, despite the existence of lots of equipment, casio ones mantain ease of use, reliability, low cost, and they are slow but responsive to feature requests. The problem is that probably the calculator is not going to be in the desk of accountants, bank agents, engineers and technicians in the next years, so they have to offer even better ease of use and features to mantain… or take the ez-road and capture markets and have “patent troll” behavior (like TI) (I hate TI calculators not because of the calculators, but because of TI’s attitude and almost monopoly of university calculators in US).

        1. Preach.

          Now that I think about it, I only use a calculator when I need to crunch something offscreen – like something I’m working out on paper. And when that need arises, much of the time the only calculator at hand is my smartphone. So I can’t agree more that Casio is reacting to save an increasingly irrelevant business line.

  3. IANAL, but if Casio (or REACT on their behalf) is complaining about trademark infringement as part of this project, don’t they also need to show similar defense of their trademark among ALL of the other hobbyists out there making mods to their watches and keyboards? Despite the other claims, Isn’t this considered harassment?

    1. It’s very clear nobody’s trademark was infringed. If I can say that I put a Casio calculator in my Walmart backpack in the trunk of my Toyota Prius and drive home stopping at a BP gas station to fill up and eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I don’t believe I’ve infringed any trademarks here. Likewise, the original modification to a Casio calculator included opening the case, putting stuff in with no relationship whatsoever to the existing calculator, closing it again, and that’s it.

    1. Where is that expression from? As someone in Australia, I’ve never once heard any disparaging comments of crows (other than at how clever they are when they learn to steal your windshield wipers)

    1. First sale doctrine applies here. Since he bought it out right, isn’t under contract from Casio, and didn’t simply buy a license to use it, he can literally do whatever he wants with it so long and he doesn’t try to make other forgeries/copies of it or try to claim he’s Casio while selling it.

  4. I was tempted to go post a load of tame “It’s useless as a calculator so…” hacks on .io Casio calculator as a door wedge etc… but thought that would possibly just cause a load of trouble for nothing… so which site do you think is a competing platform? >:-)

    1. If you live in the United States, your livelihood is very likely tied to the concept of intellectual property, so this hope is similar to hoping that there be no laws against theft of personal property from your home.

      What you are presumably saying is that these kinds of abuses of existing law should end, and that I believe most people here can agree with. One way to accomplish that is to add penalties to take-down demands that turn out to be inaccurate, misleading, or without factual basis.

  5. when claims are investigated and reversed, bills should be sent on behalf of the content owner to the entity that filed. For only a few days of non monetary earning content, its largely symbolic, but a $200 apology check is still appreciated. And perhaps will encourage troll agencies like these to more carefully evaluate before filing.

  6. I read the take-down notice from Casio, and it is beyond factually inaccurate. It claims that Casio “Preloaded basic formula programs Version 1.00 – Mar. 2014” and/or “Sample program to import Version 1.00 – Mar. 2014” were present on git.

    That’s obviously false and the writer of the take-down notice could not possibly have been insufficiently technical to be ignorant of that.

    This is exactly why there should be penalties for false DMCA take-down notices.

    1. There _are_ penalties: you submit the notice under threat of perjury. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to prove that you were filing in bad faith, or that you _knew_ it wasn’t your IP. Proving what was going on inside peoples’ heads is notoriously difficult.

      And even then, copyright law is soooo murky that it’s virtually impossible to say that someone knew or didn’t know what would apply before it’s litigated. Would you think that singing the same five notes in a row as those that appear in a Katy Perry song was infringing? Just five notes?

      So yeah. You’re basically right. There are “no penalties” even if there are severe penalties.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.