Mixed Ruling In Case Over Limitations On DMCA Anti-Circumvention Clause

from the will-have-to-wait-for-the-trial dept

John Stottlemire, who is being sued by Coupons.com in a case we’ve been covering, writes in himself to let us know that the court has ruled on various motions to dismiss (warning: pdf). If you don’t recall, Coupons.com offers online coupons using some software. The software is designed to limit how many copies of a coupon each person can print, but Stottlemire figured out ways to easily get around that limit and both built a tool to do so, as well as explained how to do it manually — at which point Coupons.com sued him for a DMCA violation, claiming he circumvented their anti-copying mechanism. The specifics of the case are pretty confusing, but basically Coupons.com is trying to stretch the DMCA beyond what it was intended for. The ruling dismisses some of Coupons.com’s claims, while allows others to go forward.

It’s not a complete win, but the court did deny Coupons.com’s attempt to blur the line between “rights-control” and “access-control” which is a good thing. However, on the issue of whether or not just explaining how to circumvent the copy protection by deleting some files is a DMCA violation, the court is allowing that issue to move forward at trial. So while this is a good partial win, we’ll still have to wait and see what happens in the next stages of this case to determine whether or not Coupons.com can expand the DMCA.

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Companies: coupons.com

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Comments on “Mixed Ruling In Case Over Limitations On DMCA Anti-Circumvention Clause”

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18 Comments
wasnt me (user link) says:

if coupons.com is offering x number of coupons per customer, and he is getting more? isn’t that by definition wrong?.

small question, am i allowed to modify some1 else work (thats if its copyrighted of course)?

and if the answer to my last question was yes as long as it is for fair use, how can it be fair use if he is making money out of the modifications he made?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

if coupons.com is offering x number of coupons per customer, and he is getting more? isn’t that by definition wrong?.

“Wrong” is a relative word and has nothing to do with the law. The real question is who actually has control over software they have. The number of copies of the coupons is not really a big issue here.

small question, am i allowed to modify some1 else work (thats if its copyrighted of course)?

What do you mean by modify?

and if the answer to my last question was yes as long as it is for fair use, how can it be fair use if he is making money out of the modifications he made?

Fair use can still apply to money making operations: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060519/035207.shtml

Besides the guy in question isn’t making the copies, he’s just explaining how the software is weakly designed. Why should that be illegal?

That only encourages the company not to do a better job improving the design of their software.

Mark Blafkin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also, the DMCA requires that it be a “technological measure that effectively controls access.”

I haven’t read through the specifics of the case, but depending on how the access control is weak, Stotllemire’s lawyers could argue that the measure was ineffective and therefore uprotected by the DMCA. Recent case law in the Lexmark case, the Agfa v. Adobe case, and the IMS case all reinforce the “effectiveness” requirement.

Shohat says:

I have...

I own a sniper rifle.
If people are stupid enough to not wear… err… ehhmm… a Tank, should I be punished for just pulling the trigger ?

Seriously, if a person doesn’t protect himself, and just assumes nobody will kill him in broad daylight (just because some law says so), is this the shooter’s fault that the person got shot ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I have...

To answer you awful analogy, yes you would be 100% responsible for shooting someone, regardless of them protecting themselves.

Now let’s make your really bad analogy a bit better.

If you tell someone how to use a sniper rifle is that illegal?

What about if you write a manual, or a piece of software that teaches you how to use a sniper rifle?

Scott says:

Bad example

Sniper rifle is a stupid example. BTW, you probably can’t legally own a sniper rifle. A hunting rifle, yes, but not a sniper rifle.

So, lets amend it to hunting rifle. I own it and it is registered to me. I can shoot it at a rifle range, or on private property, or on public property with a permit (hunting licenses, etc.).

Problem comes when I aim it at a person’s head. While I might feel morally justified to blow your head off for the crime of using horrible analogies, I would still be wrong since the act of shooting at idiots out of season is illegal.

As for comment 6. Writing a manual on how to do something is not illegal, as long as you’re not encouraging people to do something illegal, like shooting idiots out of season.

Overcast says:

small question, am i allowed to modify some1 else work (thats if its copyrighted of course)?

He didn’t modify the program – he just deleted files from his hard disk.

Seems to me he might be in violation of the License Agreement – but not DMCA. Does DMCA control what files you are allowed and not allowed to have on your PC?

How are you going to ‘enforce’ that?

Thurston Howell III says:

#1: “small question, am i allowed to modify some1 else work (thats if its copyrighted of course)?

and if the answer to my last question was yes as long as it is for fair use, how can it be fair use if he is making money out of the modifications he made?”

The simple answer to #1’s first question is yes, quotation and modification of copyrighted works is legal in order to create new works, under fair use. In answer to the second question, there is no rule under fair use that says that you can NOT make money out of fair use modification of other works. However NOT making money counts in your favor if you’re trying to prove that what you did was fair use.

In this case, 1) removing files from your own computer should be found to be absolutely legal. 2) telling people about it should be found to be protected speech under the first amendment. 3) BUT, using this knowledge to print extra coupons should be considered fraud.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copies

if I want more copies of xyz offer that I can’t just photocopy them?

No. I wish it was that simple!

Coupons.com is like a legitimate adware, rootkit, and possibly spybot all rolled into a happy user interface with a friendly name- Coupons.com. First, when you install the program, it sets up a Coupons.com system-specific printer.

While installation, it creates a system-specific unique identifier which is sent to Coupons.com to collect information on each coupon you print, and also confirm hardware settings such as system date/time and if your provided zipcode is in the same system-set timezone.

Next, Coupons.com software doesn’t like the Windows Print API– so they setup their own. Functionally speaking, they limit the quantity of prints you can specify to the printer.

Next, it tracks what coupons you print, so you can’t re-download or re-print a coupon. It then prints a serialized barcode on the coupon based on your system ID. Should you be able to circumvent somehow the software, and acquire the same coupon twice, Coupons.com can and will deactivate your ability to print coupons.

Basically, DRM for printing coupons for 25-cent off frozen dinners. Yah! Real fun.

Pass on Coupons.com

Anonymous Coward says:

It would be incredibly easy to get around the printing limitation. All that is necessary is to print the coupon to a PDF document and then print that as many times as necessary. It’s silly how the owner(s) of coupons.com don’t think that these will be replicated. Almost nothing is safe on the web if it’s viewable. Even pictures where downloading is disabled can be worked around by doing a print screen.

Companies like this need to stop worry so much about infringement and their “rights” and focus more on providing a good product for their customers. Of any group of people, there are always going to be those who don’t want to follow whatever rules are set up.

Coupon Guy says:

You can’t print to a PDF machine, an all-in-one or anything else that can grab the prnt stream. There never is an image of the coupon until it pops out of your pritner.

Frankly, no one cares if YOU print out an extra copy and go buy an extra can of peas. It is about RETAILER fraud. The retailer gets reimbursed the face value plus a handling fee. Without protection they could cheat, print out hundreds or thousands of extra coupons and turn them in for the cash.

That is also the point of the unique bar codes. If a cheating retailer made 100’s of photocopies they would be detected and civil/criminal action could ensue.

If the security is compromosed then the brands would no longer participate and that’s the end of the business.

THAT is why this is a big deal to them.

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