A Look At Twelve Years Of Dangerous Unintended Consequences From The DMCA

from the stifling-free-speech-in-the-name-of-hollywood dept

The DMCA has been in place for a dozen years now, and the harm done by its provisions has become quite clear. The framers of the DMCA did not take into account the unintended consequences of the law -- and even one of the main authors of the law, Bruce Lehman, now admits it was a mistake (though, as far as we know, he still hasn't apologized to James Boyle, who accurately predicted many of unintended consequences of the DMCA, only to have Lehman threaten to "rip his throat out" and to get Boyle denied tenure). So, twelve years in, the EFF has put out a document highlighting all of the dangerous unintended consequences of the DMCA:
  • The DMCA Chills Free Expression and Scientific Research.
    Experience with section 1201 demonstrates that it is being used to stifle free speech and scientific research. The lawsuit against 2600 magazine, threats against Princeton Professor Edward Felten's team of researchers, and prosecution of Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov have chilled the legitimate activities of journalists, publishers, scientists, students, programmers, and members of the public.
  • The DMCA Jeopardizes Fair Use.
    By banning all acts of circumvention, and all technologies and tools that can be used for circumvention, the DMCA grants to copyright owners the power to unilaterally eliminate the public's fair use rights. Already, the movie industry's use of encryption on DVDs has curtailed consumers' ability to make legitimate, personal-use copies of movies they have purchased.
  • The DMCA Impedes Competition and Innovation.
    Rather than focusing on pirates, some have wielded the DMCA to hinder legitimate competitors. For example, the DMCA has been used to block aftermarket competition in laser printer toner cartridges, garage door openers, and computer maintenance services. Similarly, Apple has used the DMCA to tie its iPhone and iPod devices to Apple's own software and services.
  • The DMCA Interferes with Computer Intrusion Laws.
    Further, the DMCA has been misused as a general-purpose prohibition on computer network access, a task for which it was not designed and to which it is ill-suited. For example, a disgruntled employer used the DMCA against a former contractor for simply connecting to the company's computer system through a virtual private network ("VPN").
Clearly, it's long been time to rethink the entire premise of the DMCA, but it seems like there's little appetite for Congress to actually do this. Hell, the EFF put out a similar document two years ago, highlighting the unintended consequences and calling for a rethink.

And what's happening instead? Via ACTA, the US isn't just doubling down on the worst of the DMCA, it's trying to spread it around the world and to make sure that the US cannot fix the problems of the DMCA by creating an agreement that will allow DMCA defenders to say that we can't fix the DMCA or we'll violate our "international obligations."

Filed Under: copyright, dmca, unintended consequences


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  1. icon
    R. Miles (profile), 9 Mar 2010 @ 9:24am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "i would say you can thank one of those fine people using a keygen..."
    You're missing the point, clearly. The keygen was made because the DRM was easy to crack.

    "if you had to spend hours with abode on the phone over this i think you probably aren't very good at communicating. this would be a simple issue to resolve."
    Really? Because the communication was very simple:
    Me: "Yes, I'm calling about an error message I received when registering my software. It says the code was already used."
    Adobe CS: "We apologize for the inconvenience. Can you tell me where you bought your software?"

    Me: "Your website. Order # blah blah blah"
    Adobe CS: "I can see you downloaded the software. Good. Now, can you tell me where you got the registration code?"

    Me: (thinking) "WTF! From your website, genius" (actual) "The website gave it to me after the download was complete."
    Adobe CS: "Well, the code should work, then. Can you try again, please."

    Me: I do. Same error. Reports back.
    Adobe CS: "I see. It appears someone has registered this code already." (no shit, Sherlock) "Do you mind if I put you on hold while I investigate?"

    Me: "No, go ahead"
    (Waits. Waits. Waits. 15 minutes later...)
    Adobe CS: "I'm sorry, sir. But since the code has already been registered, you can't use the one you have."

    Me: "I understand that. Hence, the phone call."
    Adobe CS: "You'll need to purchase another license, sir, in order to activate it."

    Me: "Excuse me? I just bought the software! I'd assume the license for single use is included."
    Adobe CS: "It is, sir. Unfortunately, the code's already been registered. You now require a license to register the software."

    Me: "I get that. However, I just purchased it just a few hours ago. You have proof. The key given to me was by Adobe. How the hell did it get registered if it was given to me? I'm not buying another license."
    Adobe CS: "I'm not sure how it was registered, but it was. I can only offer another license to generate a new key."

    Me: "I'm not settling for this. I just spent $1200 and I can't even use the software I bought. This is Adobe's problem and I want it fixed, please."

    AC, this went on back and forth. I had to provide my DoB, SSN, and CC information many times. My phone number, so they can call me to verify me. No shit. I spoke with someone who called just to verify it was me!

    At the end of it all, this "simple" solution was anything but. It was a complete nightmare, especially when they had all the information proving I was a legitimate buyer.

    But don't take my word for it, AC. Try it yourself. Best hope your key code works, or you're in for a world of hell trying to convince Adobe you're not a damn pirate. Good luck with that.

    I still retain the several emails which went back and forth (proving myself, of course). They're fascinating reads, AC. So much so, I'll never, ever, ever, ever buy an Adobe product ever again. It'll be easier to pirate it, as I've never heard any complaints on a pirated copy front. Ironic, isn't it?

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