Bunnie Huang is no stranger
to absolutely ridiculous legal claims concerning trying to hack an Xbox. After doing so, he had trouble publishing a book on the subject, over fears that telling people how to modify a piece of electronics they had legally purchased might somehow violate copyright law (anyone else see a problem with that?). Now, techflaws.org
points us to the news that Huang is scheduled to testify on behalf of a guy facing jailtime
for modifying Xboxes. But US officials are trying to bar his testimony, claiming it's "not legally relevant." Technically, they're probably right. But, from a common sense standpoint, Huang is trying to make a bunch of important points.
First, let's take a step back, and realize just how ridiculous this situation is. If you buy a piece of electronic equipment, should you ever
deserve jailtime for then modifying it? With most things you buy, you have every right to then make changes to it. Yet, when it comes to gaming consoles, suddenly that can get you jailtime
. The culprit? Of course, it's the ever-present DMCA, and its anti-circumvention clause, which lets any device maker put in some "technological protection measures," and suddenly it's illegal to modify what you thought you legally owned.
Now, supporters of the DMCA will note that every few years we have the lovely "exceptions" process, whereby the Librarian of Congress gets to (somewhat arbitrarily) choose what things won't get covered by the anti-circumvention clause. Just a few months ago, for example, it was deemed "ok" to jailbreak your mobile phone
. So, here's the conundrum: it's perfectly legal to jailbreak your iPhone, but you can get thrown in jail for jailbreaking your Xbox. Explain that.
Huang wants to testify on behalf of Matthew Crippen, who would jailbreak Xboxes. Huang planned to show the jury just how easy it was to mod an Xbox. While he doesn't say so, my assumption is that the idea is to show that, and then suggest that the anti-circumvention provision does not apply because it shows that the Xbox's technological protection measures are not "effective," and the anti-circumvention provisions are only designed to apply to "a technological measure that effectively controls
access to a work protected under this title." Similar arguments have actually worked in Europe
, though I'm not sure if they'll work here.
Either way, I'm guessing the court won't allow Huang to testify for a variety of legal reasons, but even if he doesn't, it would be nice if the court and anyone else could explain why jailbreaking an iPhone is fine while jailbreaking an Xbox gets you jailtime.