Abbott Laboratories Sends Heavy-Handed Copyright Threat To Shut Down Diabetes Community Tool For Accessing Blood-Sugar Data

from the not-very-sweet,-not-very-clever dept

One of the most important recent developments in the world of diabetes has been the arrival of relatively low-cost continuous blood glucose monitors. These allow people with diabetes to take frequent readings of their blood sugar levels without needing to use painful finger sticks every time. That, in turn, allows users to fine-tune their insulin injections, with big health benefits for both the short- and long-term. The new devices can be read by placing a smartphone close to them. People use an app that gathers the data from the unit, which is typically placed on the back of the upper arm with an adhesive.

One of the long-awaited technological treatments for diabetes is the “closed-loop” system, also called an “artificial pancreas”. Here, readings from a continuous glucose device are used to adjust an insulin pump in response to varying blood sugar levels — just as the pancreas does. The idea is to free those with diabetes from needing to monitor their levels all the time. Instead, software with appropriate algorithms does the job in the background.

Closed-loop systems are still being developed by pharma companies. In the meantime, many people have taken things into their own hands, and built DIY artificial pancreas systems from existing components, writing the control code themselves. One popular site for sharing help on the topic is Diabettech, with “information about [continuous glucose monitoring] systems, DIY Closed Loops, forthcoming insulins and a variety of other aspects.”

A few months back there was a post on Diabettech about some code posted to GitHub. A patch to Abbott Laboratories’ LibreLink app allowed data from the same company’s FreeStyle Libre continuous monitor to be accessed by other apps running on a smartphone. In particular, it enabled the blood-sugar data to be used by a program called xDrip, which provides “sophisticated charting, customization and data entry features as well as a predictive simulation model.” Innocent enough, you might think. But not according to Abbott Laboratories, which sent in the legal heavies waving the DMCA:

It has come to Abbott’s attention that a software project titled “Libre2-patched-App” has been uploaded to GitHub, Inc.’s (“GitHub?) website and creates unauthorized derivative works of Abbott’s LibreLink program (the “Infringing Software”). The Infringing Software is available at In addition to offering the Infringing Software, the project provides instructions on how to download the Infringing Software, circumvent Abbott’s technological protection measures by disassembling the LibreLink program, and use the Infringing Software to modify the LibreLink program.

The patch is no longer available on GitHub. The original Diabettech post suggested that analyzing the Abbott app was permitted under EU law (pdf):

Perhaps surprisingly, this seems to be covered by the European Software Directive in article 6 which was implemented in member states years back, which allows for decompilation of the code by a licensed user in order to enable interoperability with another application (xDrip in this case).

As Cory Doctorow points out in his discussion of these events, in the US the DMCA has a similar exemption for reverse engineering:

a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and that have not previously been readily available to the person engaging in the circumvention, to the extent any such acts of identification and analysis do not constitute infringement under this title.

Legal issues aside, there is a larger point here. As the success of open source software over the last twenty years has shown, one of the richest stores of new ideas for a product is its user community. Companies that embrace that group are able to draw on what is effectively a global research and development effort. Abbott is not just wrong to bully people looking to derive greater benefit from its products by extending them in interesting ways, it is extremely stupid. It is throwing away the enthusiasm and creativity of the very people it should be supporting and working with as closely as it can.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter, Diaspora, or Mastodon.

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Companies: abbott labs, github

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Comments on “Abbott Laboratories Sends Heavy-Handed Copyright Threat To Shut Down Diabetes Community Tool For Accessing Blood-Sugar Data”

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ECA (profile) says:

The First camera's..

Basically a BOX, with a hole in it.
then a Lens..
Then a magnifier to get closer..
then mechanisms, that could hold and make them adjustable..
Then Color Lens..Which leads to creating 3 images, that can be Dyed and merged to create some of the First color imaged with TONS of depth.

The Camera companies really didnt have a monopoly on the product because Everyone was experimenting.. and the advancements kept coming..
!000’s upon 1000’s were using the camera but the experimenters Had tons of fun, and trying to get things better.. Like FASTER FILM, sitting for 1-2 min and not moving ISNT easy.. Many died from the solutions/chemicals used, as they were Very poisonous..

Ask the movie industry where in Hell they would be, without all those people.. From Metal plates to Glass to Cellulose Nitrate, and other materials to Hold the pictures..

Adam says:

shooting yourself in the foot!

There are so many examples of fan/community involvement benefiting the original developer of something. Specifically in the gaming world (Minecraft, The Sims, etc.) allowing the users to add to the experience has paid off for the developers quite nicely. This translates to other areas as well, blog sites, such as Techdirt and the Gawker sites, are enhanced by the user community. Use of the initial product is required for any enhancements to be made! The effort to monetize the enhancements hampers any strides they’ve made to monetize the original product.

ECA (profile) says:


Who understands that most software Games, originated from the first designs, with small modifications, here and there to make it someone else’s version…VERSION, NOT THE WHOLE program..

Even the original Multiplan is the Father/mother of Every spreadsheet Program out there..and it was made to run on every machine at the time, 10 different Computers, including the C64..

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: software

innovations is not limited to the Creators…Never has been, everything can be improved or modified to be, WHAT IS NEEDED..
Not restricted by the original design.

Digital cameras are being hacked to have better programming, but the companies Keep messing things up to make it harder.
there are programmer that have created Router/modem updates that are easier and more options them the originals..

Why limit your product, when others can make it better….then as a corp you take it, and pay no one for it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
CyberKender says:

This kind of tinkering is necessary.

A friend of mine, who is diabetic and had been using an insulin pump for years, went in for a regular checkup. She was told her pump was out of date and needed to be replaced, as that model was discontinued. The discontinued model did continuous testing. The new model did not. The cynic in me says the continuous testing models reduce the opportunity for profits, and thus had to be eliminated…

Anonymous Coward says:

But we were going to 'sell' that function next quarter...

Obviously now that the technology and parts are available, they are just trying to ‘corner the market’ by eliminating all the competition (that helps users build free/low cost systems) when they are going to ‘license’ the technology to the patients for only $299.99 a month…

I mean we are all willing to pay for convenience, why should it be free just because users already own the hardware, processor, and equipment? Shouldn’t they have to pay every month for the ‘right’ to use our software?

Qwertygiy says:

Re: DMCA exemption for reverse engineering

Same information, but different contexts.

DMCA: "you can decompile and read the source code so that you can find out the titles of the API functions and what they do."

Google vs. Oracle: both Android and Java have API functions titled "doTheThing()" and "doTheOtherThing()", even though the functions themselves are different, and do the thing (and the other thing) differently in Android than in Java.

Qwertygiy says:

Not so cut-and-dry

First things first: I don’t think this was a good move by Abbott. The patch is only helpful for people who are trying to use their legally-acquired Abbott tool to improve their health, and this heavy-handed approach seems more likely to get such people to stop buying those Abbott tools and get their equipment somewhere else.

But the article’s analysis of whether this patch is legal is incomplete.

In addition to the portion quoted in the article, which merely allows the code to be decompiled and read, the DMCA also permits the creation or use of "technological means to circumvent a technological measure […] in order to enable the identification and analysis under paragraph (1), or for the purpose of enabling interoperability".

It also allows that the information or technological means "may be made available to others if the person referred to in paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, provides such information or means solely for the purpose of enabling interoperability".

However, this is all followed by the following "but":

"to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title or violate applicable law other than this section."

This is the part where details start to matter. Details which I don’t have. Did the patch on GitHub include modified source code taken from Abbott’s software? That would be bad, and could still be regular ol’ garden-variety copyright infringement.

Or was it a program that inserts new code into Abbott’s software, without itself containing significant portions of Abbott’s source code? This is entirely possible to develop (it is how the vast majority of Minecraft modding systems work, for example) and would not be violating the copyright of that source code.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not so cut-and-dry

Or was it a program that inserts new code into Abbott’s software, without itself containing significant portions of Abbott’s source code? This is entirely possible to develop … and would not be violating the copyright of that source code.

That’s not cut and dry either. If the new code modifies Abbott’s code (source or binary, via addition or replacement), that would create a derived work. At least in the RAM of the user.

Copying into RAM is explicitly not infringement, to the extent it’s an "essential step" in running the program. Common sense says that essential modifications like dynamic linker fixups would be covered by that.

I’m not aware of anything that says it’s legal to make unnecessary but desirable modifications to software, without permission, or to release software that would cause this to happen on a user’s computer. There are projects like ZFS-on-Linux that rely on this being legal, and haven’t been sued, but people have questioned it. It wouldn’t be shocking for a court to rule that something as simple as nopping out an access check would be infringing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not so cut-and-dry

I’m of the opinion that the personal use exemption should cover that in all but the most extreme of fringe cases.

I’m not aware of anything that says it’s legal to make unnecessary but desirable modifications to software

…even though I just included the portions of the law that explicitly make that legal in this instance?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so cut-and-dry

…even though I just included the portions of the law that explicitly make that legal in this instance?

Follow the link to "circumvent a technological measure":

(3) As used in this subsection— (A) to “circumvent a technological measure” means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and (B) a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

Do those really apply? The unwanted Abbott code is not there to protect copyright.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not so cut-and-dry

It would be bad in terms of "it would violate the law" and it would be bad in terms of "it violates safe programming procedures".

A program that installs patches can verify whether it’s patching the right version of software, whether the patch was successful or not, and can still work after unrelated changes have been made to the same file.

A collection of patched files, however, becomes a hazard if the source is updated. Their new code gets overwritten by your combination of their old code and your new code.

At best, you don’t get the benefit of any new features or fixes added to those files by the original developer. Most likely, it makes the program unable to run. Worst case scenario, the program runs, but with bugs that severely interfere with normal operation.

There’s a lot of similar real-world analogies I could make, but I think the best I can come up with would be trespassing on someone’s private property because that shortcut saves you half an hour to get to the pharmacy… even though they’ve also cleared another equidistant shortcut on the other side of their house which is on public land. They might still yell at you and call the cops on you for taking either of the paths, because they’re jerks like that, but one of the paths is still likely to be illegally trespassing, and one of them isn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not so cut-and-dry

It would be bad in terms of "it would violate the law"

Then we just disagree about this. My opinion is that the law is bad, not the actions.

it would be bad in terms of "it violates safe programming procedures".

Yes, there are real risks here. Binary patches need to be against specific versions and be removed before updating those versions. And adding features without source code is hard, but what could be done apart from requiring all medical devices to use published code? (Regulators should never approve health devices with secret code. It’s too risky.)

Molina Morgan says:

Blucon Nightrider

Last year, my friend was diagnosed with diabetes, and I ordered her a Nightrider BluCon so that she can keep a check on her blood glucose level. At present, her glucose level is within the target zone, and she is able to enjoy her favorite dessert without worrying about anything. I recommend the device to people who never want diabetic issues to come in between their happiness.

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