Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Why Is The Government Putting DRM On Its Own Public Files?

from the just-wondering dept

Documents released by the US government have no copyright -- yet, apparently that doesn't stop some government officials from acting as if it does. Jerry Brito highlights how in doing some research for a discussion on the 9/11 Commission Report, he was disappointed to find that the government-released PDF has copy protections that stop people from copying and pasting material from inside the document. He notes that, even though the content isn't covered by copyright, circumventing that protection would likely mean he had broken the DMCA's anti-circumvention clause. Doesn't it seem like there's a problem when you could get in trouble for circumventing copy protection on content that is in the public domain?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Tom from Virginia, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 9:56am

    Any problem here has nothing to do with the DMCA

    I don't purport to be offering professional or legal advice, but the law that Mr. Brito fears that he would violate states, "No person shall cirumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title [(Title 17)]." 17 U.S.C. s. 1201(a)(1)(A). Section 105 states, "Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government...." 17 U.S.C. s. 105.

    If Mr. Brito perceives a problem here, suffice it to say that the DMCA does not appear to be part of it. I hope this information helps clarify the issue raised. --Tom

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Tim Lee, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 10:12am



    Jerry addressed precisely that point:

    "Even if I'm not breaking the law by circumventing the DRM, how am I supposed to do that? I have no hacking skills; I'm just a non-profit lawyer trying to read a government document. Normally I'd buy some software utility that would let me do this, but such a utility is something the DMCA definitely prohibits."

    So yes, he might technically be entitled to circumvent, but there's no legal way for him to obtain the software unless he's willing and able to write it himself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    BigEd, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 10:55am

    You can do it...

    You can use Snagit to capture what is on your screen and save it to a file. This can also include multiple pages. This would be good for using small sections of it to paste into other documents.

    Also when viewing the PDF you can also print it out using the Snagit Printer and then resave as a PDF file. I just did a quick 15 page convert and it works just fine.

    Not as nice as the original, but it will suffice for what most people need to do with it. One is not bypassing anything this way and should not be violating any laws.

    Snagit is one of the best screen capture utilities...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    todd, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 10:55am

    effectively controls?

    Wait a minute, if it is so easy to circumvent DRM, which so many people have proven over the years, then is DRM really being effective at controlling access as the law requires?

    Therefore it would actually not be against the law to circumvent DRM.

    That's just my view, however it doesn't matter much how i intrepet the law, its how the judges intrepet the law that counts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    McKay Salisbury, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 11:12am


    Tom hit it on the nose, but let me make the connection. (I'm not a lawyer, just a studier of the DMCA)

    The DMCA prohibits people from bypassing the DRM to articles protected by copyright law. Because works produced by the government are public domain, and therefore not protected by copyright, the DMCA does not apply.

    Sure, people may have a hard time getting at the content, but if you do (and if you acquire tools to bypass the DRM?) you are not violating the DMCA

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    hewitt, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 11:15am

    Here's another point of view. Our company is ISO 9002 certified, and our Quality people worry about "quality documents". Procedures and practices are spelled out and approved, and once finalized, the documents are protected by various means against unauthorized alteration.

    Maybe the feds are using DRM techniques as an off-the-shelf convenient way to protect their version of "quality documents". I imagine they would not want a document published by the US government to be altered by unauthorized people and passed off as the official version.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    _Jon, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 11:47am

    Yeah, I agree with hewitt.

    I am skeptical that the lock was put there to prevent copying, but more use "out of context". We've seen how the media like to use snippets to distort a report...

    Perhaps that was the goal here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    MntlChaos, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 12:12pm

    Re: #6

    Preventing alteration of documents is not a way of protecting official version. Digital signatures are how you protect an official version. If the document is signed, modification becomes apparent (Hash function collisions aside for the moment).

    This doesn't stop anyone really malicious. They just generate an alternate version of the document using tools which circumvent the protections in the document. Or just generate a new document entirely.

    Just to reiterate. DRM is not how you verify something is unaltered. Digital signatures are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    arrg, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 1:20pm

    I'll tell you why

    I work in government and I'll tell you this, it's there because a lot of people in government work have no idea what DRM is. It's like the guy that sends you a MS project file and doesn't understand why you can't open it when you don't own it. People in charge of making this digital data have no idea what they are doing because most people are behind the curve on technology, don't understand the difference between .doc .pdf .odf ..... and have no real interest to learn it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Mischa, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 1:40pm

    Just an accident

    Considering that it is only the copy from that is copy protected, I'm inclined to believe it was an accident. That site has been frozen since Sept 20, 2004.

    You can get a non-copy protected version of the report at

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Just an accident

    ...I'm inclined to believe it was an accident.
    Kind of the way Microsoft ''accidentally'' files patents?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Hulser, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 2:26pm

    1. OK, here's a thought. I don't have any specifics, but I seem to remember examples of people getting into trouble for publishing research papers on how to circumvent DRM or tools that actually circumvent DRM. But this is based on the assumption that anything that was "protected" with DRM was copyrighted. Wouldn't a possible defense be "Oh, no. My paper wasn't how to circumvent DRM on copyrighted work, just on non-copyrighted work."

    Whether is was ignorance or overzealousness, it seems that by placing DRM on non-copyrighted work, the US government has exposed a loophole in the DMCA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    hewitt, Feb 2nd, 2007 @ 5:33pm

    Re: #8 - Point taken -- the right way to do it would be digital signatures. But there is an issue of IT competence in the federal government - for example, the FBI spent millions of dollars and years on a new system, only to scrap it when it became obvious it would not solve the problem they set out to solve. It's comforting, in a way. We don't need to fear an all-knowing Big Brother government because so far, they can't pull it off.

    I'd like to DRM protect my identity, dontchaknow.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    John Manger, Feb 3rd, 2007 @ 2:30am

    Government interference in the Freedom of Informat

    What did you expect? Free access to a report you paid for?
    The possibility that if you waded through thousands of pages and wanted to share something you read you would be able to?
    Not a chance. Technology is a two edged sword and you have been struck by the blunt side. No pretense at open and free spreading of your governments information.
    American citizens paid the salaries of the panel and it's staffers, the cost of the transcription, the ink and the paper and all the peripheral things that comprise a formal hearing in which the government investigates itself. What did you get for your investment. The possibility of getting eye strain reading it and the accompanying carpal tunnel syndrome as you take notes on the lies told, the laws broken and the flagrant abuse of the panel's time and regulations. Does anyone remember the demands Dubya and the shadow president Cheney insisted on if they were to testify, hand in hand.
    The world cringed at the way the panel caved to the demands they acceded to. The panel and the US should hang their head in shame.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    ScytheNoire, Feb 3rd, 2007 @ 10:28am

    I agree with hewitt, I want to DRM protect my personal information so that my indentity doesn't get stolen.

    It's funny, when a company that makes billions a year loses thousands, they cry and complain. When an individual who makes thousands losing thousands, oh well, that's the individuals problem, even though it's a corporation that makes billions that caused the individual to lose everything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Wal, Feb 4th, 2007 @ 2:09pm

    Re: Government interference in the Freedom of Info

    Did I just read a complaint about the pseudo government? Haven't you heard? Our REPUBLIC died! We are now in the hands of an oligarchy, who do as they wish. Yea, Yea, I know. What do you mean? Okay, here goes. Our founders started our constitutional representative form of government as a Republic where you and I (We, the People) are in charge. Of course, since no one has been complaining loud or long enough, our representatives now act as though they are doing us a favor. BUT, that has not changed the constitution. Read it! We are STILL a republic! Which means democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, are all not legal (Despite what dubya and Hill say). What's the catch, you ask? Try to exercise your sovereign right to tell them what you want and expect. Go ahead, become an enemy of the state. But be prepared to go to court in a common law court only, otherwise you will end up in an equity or statute court where they will tell you it's all about the "Law" they passed which you have to honor. Illegal as hell, but they will do it. Fear! Now comes the scary movie part. When the dam finally breaks, and our "Rights" are restored (You know, we tell our elected rep to do something and can expect they will), you can also expect them to perscute you "For the good of our way of life" which really means their roll in the money pit. Good luck to you. By the way, article 4, section 4, 9th amendment, etc protect you. So go for it. When you hear another lie you will be able to know it. - Wal

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Feb 4th, 2007 @ 6:39pm

    PDF printer

    Just print youyr PDF to a PDF printer, which strips te copy protection off it. If Acrobat won't let you, open it in some half-arsed PDF reader which does not implement copy protection, and do the dsame thing. Since ths is so trivial to do, the DRM hardly counts as an effective prevention, so it would be legal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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