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.

http://hackaday.com/2014/07/28/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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:22pm

    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.

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:32pm

    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!

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    randon_tx_user, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:32pm

    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!

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    (or section 230)

    additionally, does the anti-circumvention provision actually apply to instructions, or does it only apply to actual acts? Have fun improving inducement!

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:35pm

    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.

     

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

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:35pm

    Title typo

    [...]Oscilliscope[...]

    *Oscilloscope

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    Johann Wilkerson, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:42pm

    Streisand Effect

    I now know how to do it, thanks entirely to the DMCA takedown notice, without which I would never have heard of this.

     

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

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    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.

     

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

  9.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:45pm

    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.

     

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

  10.  
    icon
    Coogan (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:48pm

    I think it's about time we took the "Intellectual" out of "Intellectual Property". Let's just call it "Non-Tangible Property"

     

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

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:56pm

    Are all easter egg instructions in violation too?

    DMCA anti-circumvention bait here -

    Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start

     

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

  12.  
    icon
    Arthur Moore (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 1:56pm

    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.

     

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

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:04pm

    Re:

    Lets call it what it really is a dam in the flow of ideas. The Internet has turned the flow of ideas into a flood, which is overflowing the dam, and could eventually destroy it.

     

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

  14.  
    identicon
    legobytes, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    Tektronix Ad

    Did anyone else get a Tektronix ad while reading this article?

    Yeah, this article might make us look a little bad, but go check out our O-scopes.

     

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

  15.  
    icon
    Bob V (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The coustomers using oscopes are the market segment most likely to hack and modify equipment to suit their needs. This will just push anyone with technical ability to consider alternate vendors out of spite.

     

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

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:45pm

    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.

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re:

    What good is the First Amendment if nobody can afford to be protected by it?

     

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

  18.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Too Little, Too Late

    > TEK had to know that someone would crack that,
    > sooner rather than later.
    > We're talking about Engineers, here,

    Uh, No. You're wrong.

    We're talking Dilbert's boss here. PHB

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Tektronix Ad

    I hope TEK is paying for each ad impression.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 3:42pm

    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.

     

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

  21.  
    icon
    Phoenix84 (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 3:55pm

    They should stop being lazy

    It's obvious Tektronix is just lazy.
    They don't want to go through the hassle of ordering different sized ROM chips for the different model features (so someone can't flash better firmware on to a cheaper one). Ideally with different electrical characteristics, so you can't just swap it out.

    Stop being lazy!

     

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

  22.  
    icon
    saulgoode (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 5:01pm

    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?

     

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

  23.  
    icon
    DB (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    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.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    R, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 5:39pm

    The best part is that hack consisted of programming an EEPROM with the SKU from Tektronix's own website. It's not even modifying firmware (which would create a derivative work) - it's literally copying something from their own website.
    This is the electronic equivalent of using 1234 as the password to your safe...

     

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

  25.  
    icon
    Whatever (profile), Aug 6th, 2014 @ 9:59pm

    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.

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2014 @ 11:37pm

    Re: Too Little, Too Late

    It was meant to be "cracked"... by anyone.

    The intention is the same as M$, that everybody use your products pirated or not. It's a very serious competitive advantage even with the small lost of revenue of those that wasn't going to buy anyway.

     

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

  27.  
    icon
    Eldakka (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 1:04am

    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.

     

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

  28.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 1:25am

    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.

     

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

  29.  
    icon
    techflaws (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 3:24am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Funny to see how you - with all your mischaracterizations and outright lies about people('s arguments) - somehow seem to consider yourself to be on moral high ground. Astonishing.

     

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

  30.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 4:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    My favourite part is how in a discussion about people wanting to alter a piece of hardware after they own it, he immediately jumps to lies about people downloading digital goods. He's not only utterly dishonest, he's too stupid to apply a lie that's relevant.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    mcinsand, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 5:18am

    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 :D

     

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

  32.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 6:52am

    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.

     

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

  33.  
    identicon
    observer, Aug 7th, 2014 @ 6:57am

    Re: Re: Re:

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

    Then the problem is with the law, not with the people.

     

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

  34.  
    icon
    Gwiz (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 7:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    err...*modifying their own property

     

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

  35.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 8:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I do believe you're right. I was dimly remembering arguments made during the DeCSS nonsense.

     

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

  36.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 8:05am

    Re:

    "I'm still not sure how this is propitiatory code."

    I interpreted their argument a little differently -- I don't think they were saying that the SKU was the protected software, but that the SKU was protecting software in the oscilloscope itself.

     

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

  37.  
    icon
    lostalaska (profile), Aug 7th, 2014 @ 5:14pm

    $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.

     

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

  38.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 8th, 2014 @ 12:00am

    Re: Re: Re: 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.

     

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

  39.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 8th, 2014 @ 1:14pm

    Note to self ... Do not buy Tektronix equipment.

     

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

  40.  
    identicon
    Editor-In-Chief, Aug 9th, 2014 @ 6:12am

    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

     

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Support Techdirt - Get Great Stuff!

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.