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.

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Brute-Forced Copyrighting: Liberating All The Melodies

Bluntly stated, music is in the end just applied physics. Harmony follows — depending on the genre — a more or less fixed set of rules, and there  are a limited amount of variation possible within the space of music itself. So there are technically only so many melodies possible, making it essentially a question of time until a songwriter or composer would come up with a certain sequence of notes without knowing that they’re not the first one to do so until the cease and desist letters start rolling in.

You might well argue that there is more to a song than just the melody — and you are absolutely right. However, current copyright laws and past court rulings may not care much about that. Aiming to point out these flaws in the laws, musician tech guy with a law degree [Damien Riehl] and musician software developer [Noah Rubin] got together to simply create every possible melody as MIDI files, releasing them under the Creative Commons Zero license. While their current list is limited to a few scales of fixed length, with the code available on GitHub, it’s really just a matter of brute-forcing literally every single possible melody.

Admittedly, such a list of melodies might not have too much practical use, but for [Damien] and [Noah] it’s anyway more about the legal and philosophical aspects: musicians shouldn’t worry about getting sued over a few overlapping notes. So while the list serves as a “safe set of melodies” they put in the public domain, their bigger goal is to mathematically point out the finite space of music that shouldn’t be copyrightable in the first place. And they definitely have a point — just imagine where music would be today if you could copyright and sue over chord progressions.
Continue reading “Brute-Forced Copyrighting: Liberating All The Melodies”

Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, online creators are being sincerely flattered at an alarming rate these days. We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines. It’s annoying, but given prevailing attitudes toward intellectual property rights, there’s very little point in getting upset about it anymore. But what if it’s hardware that’s being infringed upon?

Hacker and Tindie store proprietor [Brian Lough] recently ran into this problem with one of his products, but rather than get upset, he did a remarkably fair and thoughtful review of the knock-off. The board in question, a D1 Mini Matrix Shield, makes it a snap to use LED matrix panels in projects like his Tetris-themed YouTube sub counter. The knock-off came via Ali Express, with the most “flattering” aspect being the copy and the images on the Ali Express listing, some of which are pulled straight from [Brian]’s Tindie store. While the board’s layout is different, it’s pretty clear that it was strongly inspired by the original. And the changes they did make – like terminal choices and undersizing some traces – only serve to lower the quality of the knock-off. Surely this was a cost-cutting move, so they could undercut sales of the original, right? Apparently not – the knock off is more expensive. Yes, [Brian]’s board is a kit and the imitator is fully assembled, but it still begs the question of why?

Hats off to [Brian] for not only making a useful product, but for taking the time to engineer it properly and having the ambition to put it on the market. It’s a pity that someone felt the need to steal his work, but it seems to be a rite of passage these days.

Continue reading “Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product”

What To Expect When You’re Expecting – A Trademark

A trademark represents a brand, so it can be words like “Apple”, including made up words like “Kleenex”. It can be symbols, like the Nike swoosh. It can also be colors, like UPS brown, and even scents like the flowery musk scent in Verizon stores. Filing a trademark in the United States is surprisingly easy. With a couple hundred dollars and a couple hours, you can be well on your way to having your very own registered trademark and having the right to use the ® symbol on your mark. You don’t need a lawyer, but you should know some of the hangups you might run into. The USPTO has a fantastic primer on trademarks, but we’ll TL;DR it for you. Continue reading “What To Expect When You’re Expecting – A Trademark”

Oracle V Google Could Chill Software Development

Unless you’ve completely unplugged from the news, you probably are aware that the long-running feud between Oracle and Google had a new court decision this week. An appeal court found that Google’s excuse of fair use wasn’t acceptable and that they did infringe on Oracle’s copyrights to Java. Oracle has asked for about $9 billion in damages, although the actual amount is yet to be decided. In addition, it is pretty likely Google will take it up to the Supreme Court before any actual judgment is levied.

The news is aimed at normal people, so it is pretty glossy about what exactly happened. We set out to try to make sense of it all. We found a pretty good article from [Michaela Barry] about what the courts previously found.  There were three main parts:

  • There were 37 API (Application Programming Interface) declarations taken verbatim from Java. This would be like a C header file if you aren’t familiar with Java.
  • Google decompiled 8 security files and used them.
  • The rangeCheck function — 9 lines of Java code — were exactly the same in Oracle’s Java and Android.

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Copyright Exception May Overrule Ability To Jailbreak 3D Printers

At the end of October, the US Patent and Trademark Office renewed a rule allowing anyone to ‘jailbreak’ a 3D printer to use unapproved filament. For those of you following along from countries that haven’t sent a man to the moon, a printer that requires proprietary filament is DRM, and exceptions to the legal enforceability DRM exist, provided these exceptions do not violate US copyright law. This rule allowing for the jailbreaking of 3D printers contains an exception so broad it may overturn the rule.

A few months ago, the US Copyright Office renewed a rule stating that using unapproved filament in a 3D printer does not violate US Copyright law. The language of this rule includes the wording:

‘The exemption shall not extend to any computer program on a 3D printer that produces goods or materials for use in commerce the physical production of which is subject to legal or regulatory oversight…” 

This exception is extraordinarily broad; any 3D printers can produce aircraft parts (subject to FAA approval) and medical devices (subject to FDA approval). In effect, if a 3D printer has the ability to produce objects subject to regulatory oversight, the exception allowing the use of filament not approved by the manufacturer does not apply. Additionally, it should be noted that any object produced on a 3D printer that is subject to regulatory oversight is already regulated — there’s no reason to drag the Copyright Office into the world of 3D printed ventilation masks or turbine blades.

[Michael Weinberg], ‘legal guy’ for Shapeways and President of the Open Source Hardware Association has filed a petition with the US Copyright Office, asking the Office to eliminate this exception to the existing rule surrounding DRM and 3D printers. You are encouraged to submit a comment in support of this petition by March 14th.

One Hundred Weeks Of Legal Car Hacking

There is a scene in the movie “Magic Mike” where the lead character — a male stripper — explains to a room of women the laws against having physical contact with a performer. Then he intones, “… but I see a lot of lawbreakers up in this house.”

We know if we could look out through the Web browser, we could say the same thing. There’s a lot of gray zone activities considered commonplace. Have you ever ripped a CD or DVD to take with your on your phone? Gray; we won’t judge. A lot of the legal issues involved are thorny (and I should point out, I’m not a lawyer, so take what I say with a grain of salt).

Do you own your car? Well, probably you and the bank, but certainly the deal you made involves the idea that you own the car. If it is paid off, you can do what you like with it, including — if you wanted to — stripping it bare for parts. Back in the day, your car was some wheels and some mechanical devices. These days, it is a computer (actually, a few computers) and some I/O devices that process gasoline into rotary motion. Computers have software. Do you own that software?

The answer has, legally, been no. However, a recent decision by the US Copyright office allows car owners to legally analyze and modify their vehicle software (with some limitations) for the next two years. After that? We’ll see.

Continue reading “One Hundred Weeks Of Legal Car Hacking”