Tektronix Uses DMCA Notice To Try To Stop Oscilloscope Hacking

from the freedom-to-tinker dept

Another day, another abuse of the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions to stop things that have nothing whatsoever to do with copyright. As pointed out by Slashdot, the Hackaday site recently had a post about how to clone some Tektronix application modules for its MSO2000 line of oscilloscopes. The post explained a simple hack to enable the application module to do a lot more. And… in response, Tektronix sent a DMCA takedown notice demanding the entire post be taken down.

I am the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at Test & Measurement group of companies including Tektronix, Inc.

I have been notified of a posting on the ?Hack A Day? website concerning hacking of Tektronix? copyrighted modules for use in oscilloscopes. Hacking those modules permits unauthorized access to and use of Tektronix? copyrighted software by means of copying of Tektronix? copyrighted code in those modules.

Cloning Tektronix Application Modules

A copy of the offending posting is attached for your reference.

The posting includes instructions for how to hack our modules and thereby violate Tektronix? copyrights.

Tektronix has a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for this individual to provide such instructions to anyone, much less on a public forum.

I hereby submit that the above statements are true and accurate, and under penalty of perjury state that I am authorized to act on Tektronix? behalf.

In view of the above, Tektronix demands that the posting identified above be expeditiously removed from the website.

Very Truly Yours,

Hackaday didn’t remove the entire post, but did basically remove all of the details. While the takedown doesn’t say so, it appears that Tektronix is likely relying on a distorted reading of the DMCA’s Section 1201, which is the anti-circumvention clause. Of course, court rulings have not been kind to hardware companies looking to use Section 1201 in a similar manner, but it’s doubtful that a site like Hackaday feels like getting in a legal fight with Tektronix.

And, of course, that’s why the DMCA is such a dangerous and overly broad tool. It allows bullies like Tektronix to take down useful information that actually makes its own devices more useful, all because of misguided beliefs about the importance of “protecting” your “intellectual property,” rather than making your products more useful and valuable to a wider audience.

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Companies: hackaday, tektronix

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Comments on “Tektronix Uses DMCA Notice To Try To Stop Oscilloscope Hacking”

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41 Comments
Michael (profile) says:

The posting includes instructions for how to hack our modules and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights

Let’s break that down:

1) The posting includes instructions
Clearly, these instructions were not created by Tektronix so they don’t have a copyright claim there.

2) how to hack our modules
So nothing to do with copyright since writing a hack would at least be creating something new if someone really wanted to claim copyright on their code

3) and thereby violate Tektronix’ copyrights
Ah – there it is – the old ‘copyright enabling’. Now I get it – those bastards are enabling something that could allow someone to copy. We should go after everyone for this – let’s start with the pencil makers.

randon_tx_user says:

Re: Re:

those bastards are enabling something that could allow someone to copy.

When your business model is built on copyright it’s not a business model. Tektronics attempted to extract additional money from customers by ‘adding features’ to a standard hardware profile; too bad customers were smarter.

+1 for the consumer!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Tektronics attempted to extract additional money from customers by ‘adding features’ to a standard hardware profile; too bad customers were smarter.

How are the customers going to debug their oscilloscope hack? It seems like an opportunity to sell them another oscilloscope. And most of these devices are owned by companies, who aren’t going to let their employees hack them up anyway. This is nothing but bad publicity for the company.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Clearly, these instructions were not created by Tektronix so they don’t have a copyright claim there.”

They are not claiming copyright on the instructions. They are claiming that the instructions violate the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. That clause specifically forbids telling people how to circumvent controls that restrict access to copyrighted material.

“So nothing to do with copyright”

Their claim has everything to do with copyright since the DMCA is copyright law.

Whether on not their claim is supportable is a different question, but it is legally coherent.

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They are not claiming copyright on the instructions. They are claiming that the instructions violate the anti-circumvention clause of the DMCA. That clause specifically forbids telling people how to circumvent controls that restrict access to copyrighted material.

Are you sure? What part of the DMCA forbids instruction?

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Agreed, I just had a quick scan of:
17 U.S. Code § 1201 – Circumvention of copyright protection systems (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/1201) and nowhere does it mention discussing or providing instructions.


(a) Violations Regarding Circumvention of Technological Measures.—
(a)(2) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that—

(b) Additional Violations.—
(b)(1) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that—

(c) Other Rights, Etc., Not Affected.—(1) Nothing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defenses to copyright infringement, including fair use, under this title.

(c)(4) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish any rights of free speech or the press for activities using consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing products.

As far as I can tell, the author of the article isn’t offering anything covered: manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tektronix has a good faith belief that there is no legal basis for this individual to provide such instructions to anyone, much less on a public forum.

Of course there’s no legal basis for this, such as, you know, things like freedom of speech, fair use, and extraterritoriality protections. That would stop us from instituting a permissions culture!

Anonymous Coward says:

Honestly, if you dig down into the whole matter, I’m still not sure how this is propitiatory code. Basically he built a cheap EEPROM board and input the SKU of the product that they wanted to use. The SKU certainly isn’t code any more than the DVD CSS encryption key. Is it a protection scheme, probably the same as “Sega v. Accolade” but I don’t know how that will still hold with the DMCA now.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

Re: Re:

True, but courts have held that software that bypasses DVD CSS is illegal. They might rule that simple instructions are legal, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Either way, that’s going to be a lot of money going to lawyers.

There’s a growing disconnect between what people believe is moral, and what is actually legal. Then you throw the US First Amendment into a case like this. Douglas MacArthur said “Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.” He new it did nothing but undermine his own authority to do so. If only everyone else in government would learn the same thing.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Generally the first amendment arguments fail when it comes to copyright, because your rights to free speech don’t trump the law. Your rights don’t extent to the point of harming the rights of others.

There’s a growing disconnect between what people believe is moral, and what is actually legal.

Many times on Techdirt, the moral issues of piracy and copyright and such have been discussed, and every time it’s slapped down as not being relevant. I personally think it’s very important.

The real disconnect here is that people would not break a padlock to gain entry to something, but have no problem sticking an extra board in their xbox or replacing the eprom on their scope to accomplish the same thing. The true moral issue is that while people generally are against ill gotten gains (I don’t use the word stealing because the usual suspects will jump down my throat), they don’t see the stuff obtained through digital means to be the same. That is the true moral disconnect.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Generally the first amendment arguments fail when it comes to copyright, because your rights to free speech don’t trump the law. “

Isn’t the constitution the basis of your law?

“Your rights don’t extent to the point of harming the rights of others.”

So, why do you consistently support the rights of corporations to violate the rights of ordinary citizens?

“The real disconnect here is that people would not break a padlock to gain entry to something, but have no problem sticking an extra board in their xbox or replacing the eprom on their scope to accomplish the same thing.”

Oh dear, you’re full of shit again. What a surprise.

People would most certainly not have a problem breaking a padlock into something THAT THEY OWN. People also have no problem hacking and altering equipment THAT THEY OWN.

Do you not see the problem here yet, or are you too busy lying again to see that actual arguments made by other people?

“The true moral issue is that while people generally are against ill gotten gains (I don’t use the word stealing because the usual suspects will jump down my throat), they don’t see the stuff obtained through digital means to be the same.”

Yes, we’ll jump down your throat whenever you not only lie, but make false claims about others here. Why should I not gain entry to the things that I have paid money for?

Stop making shit up and deal with reality, please. The people you argue with are paying customers, not thieves. I’m sorry if that’s too difficult for you to grasp, but you’re the only dishonest person here.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The real disconnect here is that people would not break a padlock to gain entry to something, but have no problem sticking an extra board in their xbox or replacing the eprom on their scope to accomplish the same thing.

I think you are the one with a bit of disconnect myself. Your analogy is flawed.

By saying “people would not break a padlock to gain entry to something” is misleading. True, most people wouldn’t break a padlock to gain entry to someone else’s property.

Now ask all those same people if they would break a padlock on a lockbox they purchased legally at the flea market, estate sale or storage unit auction.

You are failing to include the fact that people are modify their own property that’s physically in their possession.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“You are failing to include the fact that people are modify their own property that’s physically in their possession.”

Funny thing is, he isn’t. Look at his wording:

“have no problem sticking an extra board in THEIR xbox or replacing the eprom on THEIR scope to accomplish the same thing.” (emphasis mine, of course)

Either he so ignorant of the argument that he’s actually making the point for us, or he’s deliberately trying to conflate modifying hardware you own with digital piracy. But, whether deliberately or subconsciously, his wording admits that it’s about hardware that people own.

This is the kind of dishonesty I call him out on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Too Little, Too Late

Come on, people! The fact that the HACKADAY folks discovered that the key was the SKU number, AND THAT”S ALL, stored in the EEPROM, meant that the software in question WAS ALREADY IN the ‘scope firmware. That’s in the same category as brain-damaged software that requires a “product key” to enable functions already in the package. TEK had to know that someone would crack that, sooner rather than later. We’re talking about Engineers, here, who don’t take kindly to such crap in their instruments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Too Little, Too Late

I believe the term you’re looking for is “Defective by Design”… also relevant: “Anti-Features”

It’s not unlike when people were able to convert Windows NT Workstation to Windows NT Server with a registry hack.

Artificial technical limitations are fair game, as far as I’m concerned – using copyright to prevent people from finding and “fixing” these limitations is absolutely ridiculous.

DB (profile) says:

I’ll add a few facts, to provide a basis for the discussion.

The code in question was already resident in the oscilloscope.

There was no copying involved. (Any argument about “copying” from flash to RAM to instruction decoder has no legal relevance. The established precedent is that if such transfers are needed to make use of the distribution media, the transfers are not ‘copying’ for the purposes of copyright law.

The only thing this “hack” does is change a single number, the SKU number. It doesn’t provide a decryption key, or teach a new algorithm.

mcinsand (profile) says:

thanks for the justification!

I have my small collection of scopes, but they don’t have EPROMS, EEPROMS, or even ROM’s. The newest scope that I have is a Tek 454A, and I resisted that one, based on it being ‘too new.’ However, the seller offered it at a price that was too good to refuse, and it is a good workhorse. However, even though it is sand-state, I don’t think it has any IC’s.

No DMCA issues in my scopes 😀

lostalaska (profile) says:

$20 of parts apparently makes a $500 add on board

If this was the article I’m thinking of on Hack-a-day I think they also mentioned that the boards were very expensive to purchase, but could be built for about $20. I not sure what should be considered more criminal the hacking or the insane mark up on $20 worth of hardware. I’m not sure if I condone that kind of hacking or not, but I sure as hell understand why people do it.

Editor-In-Chief says:

Internet failsafe activated

Rich fools forget that once released, you can’t get the worms back into the same can. They have shut the barn door after the horses have bolted.

Search and you will find it – the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel at Test & Measurement appears to have very little understanding of technology if he thinks that this is all that is required to remove said redacted information from the hands and minds of those who want to use it. One minute to find it, one minute to download it and one minute to bind it in my local storage media.

I dinna own a Tek, but have stored the knowledge for someone else’s rainy day.

David Oliver Graeme Samuel Offenbach

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