by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
dmca, javascript, noscript, paywall


Am I Violating The DMCA By Visiting The NYTimes With NoScript Enabled?

from the simple-questions dept

As we continue to explore the NY Times' bizarrely pointless paywall, it comes as no surprise that the wall itself is barely any wall at all. It's not even a fence. It's basically a bunch of fence posts, and someone screaming: "Pay no attention to your own eyes. There is a fence here, and you should go round the front and pay at the entrance... unless someone sent you here. Then walk on through." That, of course, is bizarre, and it means that most people will never actually see any fence at all. But it gets even more bizarre when you discover that the "paywall" itself has apparently been written in javascript, meaning that when you do hit the wall, the full article you want to read actually loads in the HTML, it's just then blocked by some script asking you to pay up. That means it's even easier to remove than many had predicted (no need to even delete cookies or any such nonsense). In fact, that link above points people to NYTClean, a four-line javascript bookmarklet, that makes it easy to remove the paywall with (literally) the click of a button, should you actually encounter it.

Now, when I read that, my first thought was that certainly sounds like a "circumvention device" under the DMCA. The author is Canadian, so he may be protected for now, since Canada (thankfully) doesn't yet have an anti-circumvention clause that makes any such circumvention tool illegal -- though, the Canadian government is still apparently considering a law that would add just such a clause. Of course, to anyone who understands what's going on, that's ridiculous. Four simple lines of code to remove a javascript popup should not be considered a tool for infringement, but it is.

Of course, that got me wondering. I tend to use the always excellent NoScript extension when browsing, which turns off javascript, except on a few key sites where I enable it. If the stories about the NYT paywall being done in javascript are true, then I'll simply never run into it at all, no matter what I do.

So, here's the question: have I broken the law by using NoScript? I've used it for years, and it seems pretty ridiculous to claim that I now need to specifically go and whitelist the NYTimes just because it wants to hit me with an incredibly porous paywall. But, technically, I could see how an argument could be made that merely using NoScript makes me a DMCA violator by "circumventing" technical protection measures. Does this also mean that NoScript -- an incredibly useful tool -- has suddenly become a "circumvention device" overnight, because the NYTimes programmed an incredibly stupid paywall in javascript?

What this really should highlight is the massive problem with automatically outlawing all "circumvention" and "circumvention devices." It leads to particularly dumb situations like this, when a clueless newspaper puts up an amazingly poorly thought out paywall in a manner that makes very little sense.

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  1. identicon
    Jose_X, 22 Mar 2011 @ 10:20pm

    Re: Re: Unwittingly

    >> He is no longer innocent though as he has thought about and we aren't either as we have read it,

    My front yard has one of those thin wire mesh fences along its perimeter.

    Just inside the fence section bordering the public sidewalk I keep a table with a sign:

    "Don't lean over and look at these copyrighted paintings just in front of you on the table. A fence plus the flat position these paintings are in block off direct sight by the public. Circumventing this protective measure to engage in unauthorized viewing will result in 100,000 fine and 5 years in jail. Thank you."

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