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Unintended Consequences: Seven Years under the DMCA

Written by James Delahunty (Google+) @ 15 Apr 2006 14:25 User comments (40)

Unintended Consequences: Seven Years under the DMCA The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is continuing its excellent work with the publication of its latest article, "Unintended Consequences: Seven Years under the DMCA". It is a collection of real-life examples of how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been mis-used in the United States to chill free expression and scientific research, jeopardize fair-use and impede competition and innovation. The article succeeds in proving that the DMCA is not being used as Congress had intended it to be.
Here are some extracts of the examples given by the Electronic Frontier Foundation...

DMCA Delays Disclosure of Sony-BMG "Rootkit" Vulnerability
J. Alex Halderman, a graduate student at Princeton University, discovered the existence of several security vulnerabilities in the CD copy-protection software on dozens of Sony-BMG titles. He delayed publishing his discovery for several weeks while consulting with lawyers in order to avoid DMCA pitfalls. This left millions of music fans at risk longer than necessary.5 The security flaws inherent in Sony-BMG's "rootkit" copy-protection software were subsequently publicized by another researcher who was apparently unaware of the legal risks created by the DMCA.

Security researchers had sought a DMCA exemption in 2003 in order to facilitate research on dangerous DRM systems like the Sony-BMG rootkit, but their request was denied by the U.S. Copyright Office.

Cyber-Security Czar Notes Chill on Research
Speaking at MIT in October 2002, White House Cyber Security Chief Richard Clarke called for DMCA reform, noting his concern that the DMCA had been used to chill legitimate computer security research. The Boston Globe quoted Clarke as saying, "I think a lot of people didn't realize that it would have this potential chilling effect on vulnerability research."

Professor Felten's Research Team Threatened
In September 2000, a multi-industry group known as the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) issued a public challenge encouraging skilled technologists to try to defeat certain watermarking technologies intended to protect digital music. Princeton computer science professor Edward Felten and a team of researchers at Princeton, Rice, and Xerox took up the challenge and succeeded in removing the watermarks.

When the team tried to present their results at an academic conference, however, SDMI representatives threatened the researchers with liability under the DMCA. The threat letter was also delivered to the researchers' employers and the conference organizers. After extensive discussions with counsel, the researchers grudgingly withdrew their paper from the conference. The threat was ultimately withdrawn and a portion of the research was published at a subsequent conference, but only after the researchers filed a lawsuit.

After enduring this experience, at least one of the researchers involved has decided to forgo further research efforts in this field.

SunnComm Threatens Grad Student
In October 2003, a Princeton graduate student named J. Alex Halderman was threatened with a DMCA lawsuit after publishing a report documenting weaknesses in a CD copy-protection technology developed by SunnComm. Halderman revealed that merely holding down the shift key on a Windows PC would render SunnComm's copy protection technology ineffective. Furious company executives then threatened legal action.

The company quickly retreated from its threats in the face of public outcry and negative press attention. Although Halderman was spared, the controversy again reminded security researchers of their vulnerability to DMCA threats for simply publishing the results of their research.

Hewlett Packard Threatens SNOsoft
Hewlett-Packard resorted to DMCA threats when researchers published a security flaw in HP's Tru64 UNIX operating system. The researchers, a loosely-organized collective known as Secure Network Operations ("SNOsoft"), received the DMCA threat after releasing software in July 2002 that demonstrated vulnerabilities that HP had been aware of for some time, but had not bothered to fix.

After the DMCA threat received widespread press attention, HP ultimately withdrew the threat. Security researchers received the message, however-publish vulnerability research at your own risk.

Blackboard Threatens Security Researchers
In April 2003, educational software company Blackboard Inc. used a DMCA threat to stop the presentation of research on security vulnerabilities in its products at the InterzOne II conference in Atlanta. Students Billy Hoffman and Virgil Griffith were scheduled to present their research on security flaws in the Blackboard ID card system used by university campus security systems but were blocked shortly before the talk by a cease-and-desist letter invoking the DMCA.

Blackboard obtained a temporary restraining order against the students and the conference organizers at a secret "ex parte" hearing the day before the conference began, giving the students and conference organizer no opportunity to appear in court or challenge the order before the scheduled presentation. Despite the rhetoric in its initial cease and desist letter, Blackboard's lawsuit did not mention the DMCA. The invocation in the original cease-and-desist letter, however, underscores the way the statute has been used to chill security research.

Xbox Hack Book Dropped by Publisher
In 2003, U.S. publisher John Wiley & Sons dropped plans to publish a book by security researcher Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, citing DMCA liability concerns. Wiley had commissioned Huang to write a book that described the security flaws in the Microsoft Xbox game console, flaws Huang had discovered as part of his doctoral research at M.I.T.

Following Microsoft's legal action against a vendor of Xbox "mod chips" in early 2003, and the music industry's 2001 DMCA threats against Professor Felten's research team, Wiley dropped the book for fear that the book might be treated as a "circumvention device" under the DMCA. Huang's initial attempt to self-publish was thwarted after his online shopping cart provider also withdrew, citing DMCA concerns.

After several months of negotiations, Huang eventually self-published the book in mid-2003. After extensive legal consultations, Huang was able to get the book published by No Starch Press.

The many others can be read at:

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40 user comments

115.4.2006 15:15

what can i say..... we were right all along that doesnt quite cover it.... anyone....

215.4.2006 15:20

Wow, I had no idea it was that bad. DMCA is BS!

315.4.2006 15:26

Well, I think most of us knew a lot of this stuff to begin with. I'd really like to see these pieces of info on the mainstream news, like maybe on CNN. But knowing those punks they'd start a lawsuit under the DMCA to justify suing the cable company airing a news program that sheds info on on how DMCA is being used to quell free speech and research. "We're suing you for copyright infringement because you aired a segment that said copyright infringement is bad. You can't say that unless we give you permission to."

415.4.2006 16:08

Life is grand when you can afford to buy off politicians.

515.4.2006 17:23

This just shows up the greed,shortsightedness and downright stupidity of the big business world. These security researchers are on the side of the businesses that use this kind of copy protection..If they were the enemy they would make no attempt to publish and would just release the findings quietly into the general cracking community.. Talk about stupid, Instead of addressing the security holes they seek to punish those who find and report them.. You could paint a cracking trick on a wall somewhere with a few details as to effectiveness vs certain copy protection in the middle of the night and in a few days the whole world would be well aware of the howto... Stoopid greedy big business again...

616.4.2006 2:43

Of course. Our world is on a collision corse with one, huge "Office Space" environment.

716.4.2006 9:52

DMCA, A self-sustaining monopoly, that lobbied politicians to pass this legislation and ultimately leaving us, the customers eating dust. How sad and insignificant they are.

816.4.2006 10:55

You can thank Sony for the DMCA. Remember that when you go to buy a PS3....

916.4.2006 15:03

Pff, at the prices the PS3 will be sold at, Sony, can keep their prized console for themselves. I am certainly displeased with all the efforts Sony has taken to systematically undermine the consummer.

1017.4.2006 0:20

this is what happens when the goverment gets greedy music executives are telling everyone out there not to download music or figure ways around copying certain music cd's but when you look at the whole thing it is a bunch of bs if they want to stop this stuff from happening then they need to still produce older games albums and software to give people that cannot afford software or certain technologys with out using a mod chip or other cheating methods and on another note why in the hell did the goverment get involved people have been using illegal everything for along time ever senece 1990 boy now they seem to care what the ****

1117.4.2006 11:18

no doubt, everytime someone mentions the ps3 I remind them of rootkits and RIAA. you cannot win against big money, but you can sometimes interrupt the flow...

1217.4.2006 13:40

The artical does not even mention that applying any form of "copy-protection" to a media file, no matter how ineffectual, subverts, makes illegal, and effectivly destroys any form of fair use by consumers, teachers, and journalists.

1317.4.2006 13:41

But then, maybe that was intended...

1417.4.2006 17:17

Nothing like big bissness useing the law to bitch slap whistel blowers and thos that whish to publish the truth.....

1518.4.2006 12:50

Not a lot new there, just more case-study material. The DMCA is basically an excuse to stop people exercising freedom of speech. If anything, computer security has been severely degraded through the introduction of the DMCA, MPAA, RIAA etc. StarForce and its partners are slow-moving giants crushing fields of antlike PCs with every step. DVD Video on DVD players and older games consoles like the PS2 are about all the modern entertainment we have left that's not been marred by some outrageous litigation. When will these people learn?

1618.4.2006 23:21

Stop buying their products, boycott literally everything, and these Big Companies come a step closer to bankruptcy. That's what the people don't think of, the big picture. We hold the power, why? Because we have the buying power! Take away the buying power, and you take away the profit of these companies, and poof, they will disappear faster than methane gas dissipating in the air.

1719.4.2006 0:38

How very profound. Ubisoft have learnt their lesson though it would seem.

Afterdawn Addict // Silent PC enthusiast // PC Build advisor // LANGamer Alias:Ratmanscoop
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1819.4.2006 4:55

It seems that Big Brother has finally come to be. Very sad indeed.

1921.4.2006 7:14

The copying of audio recordings is by no means new. When I was in the military, I had a friend that would borrow records and albums from many of us and take them to where he worked. At this government facility he would use a special made cleaning equipment and then copy all the records to a master tape recorder. In those days the average person could not come close to buying the stuff to do this. With the computers all this is different now. Sony is so afraid they are going to loose a dollar on their crapy music they sell now their electronics is suffering and becoming crap also. I bought one of their latest DVD recorders and immediately took it back. I might mention there were others standing in line doing the same. To get rid of them they cut the price and sold them as is and don't think about bringing them back. It's yours sucker.

2021.4.2006 9:20

hot_ice People dont have the patients anymore to boyycot 0-o

2121.4.2006 9:21

Sony have gone the way of Mercedes benz, only a heck of a lot further. Previously renowned for quality, and still looked that way due to price, yet they've decided to cut costs by cutting corners and rely on their previous images to get people to buy poor quality stuff. Other brands such as Philips, Panasonic and Toshiba get the vote in our house, the only sony things we have are a discman (used to be two but one broke abt 2 years after purchase...) and the relevant 3.5mm to tape adapter. That really is pretty much about it.

2221.4.2006 9:41

I would say that it is up to us to get back at these greedy sob's. We should all boycott Sony from its cameras to its dvd players. I will not purchase another Sony anything if I have the choice. They must be punished in the only way they will understand. The newest generation of dvd movies at Blockbuster etc are so loaded with copy protection schemes that many older dvd players will not play the legitimate dvd, much less any copy. Now also look at what has happened to "free" broadcast tv where it has now been put on cable or dish etc. It now costs you to get what used to be free. Also, I pay to get channels on cable or dish and they also contain jsut as many commercials as my old tv stations used to have. Where is the benfit to me to have cable or dish if I pay to watch all those commercials? I record many shows so I dont have to sit thru all the commercials; I can fast forward when they come on. Now of course those bastards are going to stop me from doing even that! At some point all of us must rebel and tell them all to go to hell!!!

2321.4.2006 9:45

A sony boycott will exercise a bit of authority, but do you really think you're going to bankrupt sony by doing it? Currently the only boycott I'm involved in is the Starforce boycott.

2421.4.2006 9:51

sammorris You know what the copy protection on SNOWBLIND is? I got the PS2 version but the controlls are sobulky its to annoying to play gettign the PC DVD,I got it for 12 with shiping *L* Iloved buying used no more 60 for a new crap game god I still cant belive what they did to Q4...

2521.4.2006 13:49

god I still cant belive what they did to Q4...
Which was? I only don't install StarForce games, I paid good money for my DVD drive and I don't want to see it trashed by some legal loophole malware thank you please. I can deal with strong copy protection, it makes people buy games, but not on that scale. Seems like I rant about SF a lot to most people, and with good reason. I can kind of live with the DMCA and MAFIAA (that really exists btw) controlling people's lives and fortunes, but I won't have remote destruction of people's hardware. That's not on.

2621.4.2006 16:03

I'm suspicious that Sony has planted virii on its DVD disks. Ever since the advent of ARCos on Sony-Columbia- Screen Gem films, the process of making DVDs has gotten more difficult. One has to dump all the menus to get a decent movie to fit on a single-sided DVD. Where are the researchers looking into what Sony is doing to its DVDs? Just because the MPAA is conducting a quiet, unpublic war against DVD copiers, doesn't mean the Press and Researchers should ignore what is going on in DVD encrytion.

2721.4.2006 16:14

sammorris The quake 4 summary if you can call it that is below,also I know Snowblind hasa working crack for it ^^ I wonder if they ever updated it sicne last I tried it.....mmmm jaszman Some Brand name movies have sowftware on themthat will disable the abilty to paly DVD moives on your comp or worse crash them outright...... sammorris Quake 4 much like dues ex 2 is the epiphany of effortless game design catered for the causal gamer while DOOM3 might have suffered from being to eye candy friendly (weak level design) Quake 4 lacks so much vision its scary I will go over each of what it failed at. My views are that of a Die hard fps gamer and I know most don't understand WTF I am talking about..but I am going to try anyway. Level design IF you forget the past you will fail.. Quake 1,2,and RTCW all ID titles altho built by various Groups you can see good design and great level design plenty of hidden sports and secrets,Quake 4s Level design is new bland WW2 like with little to no hidden sports and secrets its a basic gun and run you don't need to think or explore D3 suffered from this to but it also had a corridor feel to it. Weapons Real weapons suck... Basing the Q2 weapons on real life then watering them down didn't help win me over either Alt fire has be embraced by most games and Q4 ignores it the only reason Q2 didn't have alt fire it was not heavily used at the time and I feel alt fire brings more depth to game play.Q2 had normal handgrenades in it and they came in handy all you get with Q4 is the Normal launcher.But then as they said they didn't look at Q2 or Q3 when hacking to gathering Q4....and if you don't understand this a sniped with the rail gun dose not do extra damage it cant even take out small enemies in one shot,the upgrades over time were nice but in the end almost useless... Music Suffers from D3's cinemagic music if you like....uummm ambiance for music good for you..but give me the Q2 soundtrack any day.... Q4 dose have some nice things the medics,tech and other marines are nice but they shouldnt have replaced your item belt that was more usefull then all the "fodder" combined...The story is mediocre not the best not the worst I don't know if I liked U2s a little more or not but it near it *L* now U2's plot was trash at least Q4s is harder to mess up Voice acting in Q4 is a bit cheap its like they hired the best 4 or 5 VA's and called it a day but then most games go cheap on VAing... . Technical Issues Why am I sticking to the floor? Its not like all games are perfect but I feel these issues should have been dealt with before release,Inviable walls and lack of them helped get me into acouple bad places I had to either had to restart or die to fix why cant I jump on the railings go under the walkway and and other little things .. Multi Player Saving the..uumm..BEST....for last Q2 and Q3 have more Options for models,Maps MP type than Q4 dose and the reason to this I think is because Q4 is carmakcs masterpiece and cant fully run right on medium High PCs much less for the masses they completely missed the boat on this one plus you cant adjust the graphics using D3 options that help speed things up,Raven made JK2 and JK3 both great FPS's well balanced and such well JK3 has not so well balanced saber fightsfor MP *L* but I was holding high hopes for Q4,And it failed in so many things its not better than Unreal 2 to me perhaps I am using to many great older games to judge new games by....I gave Q4 a 5 on gamespot its pretty much mediocre I gave HL 2 a 7 or 8 the level design and character designs are good if not great but the weapons feel nerfed plus odd ammo caps just constantly take from the game..

2821.4.2006 19:10


2921.4.2006 19:30

Sammoris its securom 7 its only alittle bit better than SF >< god why dosent it remove itself after you uninstall the game...realy......morons.....I read a edios page saying its not our fault we just liesines the protection....oy vay.....

3022.4.2006 1:54

Yes but at least Securom doesn't demolish your PC if it is left on there!

3122.4.2006 2:21

I would edit my last post, but on this thread the edit button doesn't appear on either of my browsers, bizarrely, all the others but not this one. Anyway, in response to ZippyDSM, I can see why you feel so strongly about Q4, but I still wouldn't mind having a go. It's fun to mindlessly blow stuff up, even if the game is a bit dire.

3322.4.2006 9:37

oops wrong page

3422.4.2006 10:09

These days, the preservation of our rights is crucial in our democratic system. It seems more and more, that the rich and the their lobbyists are proliferating their interests at the expense of our liberties and I will be damned if I stand for it! When I buy your product, for x amount, I AM NOT BUYING A LICENSE, I am buying the movie or game. POINT FINAL.

3522.4.2006 10:25

sammorris In order to edit your comments in the news comment section you have to go to the forums go to news then to the thread and then to your post and then only then you can edit it 0-o I mean realy I had some hope for Q4 sicne the dev was half desent but crap they didnt even code it right for the 360 ..that or half the 360s are messed up and cant run it 0-o >< hot_ice I am sorry if you are unwilling to implant this chip into youself, you cant view our media....0_o besides I was talking abotu the protection on the game not the game itself :P altho you'll love steams 25 per ep of a game 75-150 for a "whole" game and you cant paly it offline becuse that defeats the purpose of online distro...or soemthing.

Copyright infringement is nothing more than civil disobedience to a bad set of laws. Lets renegotiate them.

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3622.4.2006 11:12

that or half the 360s are messed up and cant run it 0-o ><
Lol two thumbs up for that statement! The online distribution steam etc. rubbish annoys me greatly, but sometimes you have to put up with things like that. At least it's not star force.

Afterdawn Addict // Silent PC enthusiast // PC Build advisor // LANGamer Alias:Ratmanscoop
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3722.4.2006 11:37

sammorris wellI see it no diffrently than aniem most 26 eps sereis are 100+ but I only buy quilty stuff I like STEAM can become better but if all the online distro setups use Online only as a exscuse its going to be a long while befor I touch it,or wait untill tis fully cracked...realy its gettign so devs dont have to do much anymore fans,crackers and modders will fix the games 0-o I see the 360 as a ok console,but MS not runing quailty control and dev lackign to use the 3X core CPU (the main reason for Q4 not running right ,2ndry being lack of qauilty controll on the consoul,or prehaps the suits annoyign the devs tog et it done regaurdless of it being done or not...who knows they'er not tlaking...)..anyway the final thing I dont like abotu the 360 is lack of japanase dev support.

Copyright infringement is nothing more than civil disobedience to a bad set of laws. Lets renegotiate them.

Check out my crappy creations

3822.4.2006 12:37

I'm not surprised there's no japanese support, the japanese don't buy them! Xbox 360 sales are woeful in Japan. The 360 shows potential, but the PS3 shows more potential. It maybe a slightly weird case of hare and tortoise, the 360 came out first but the PS3 will end up far more powerful and, arguablty useful.

Afterdawn Addict // Silent PC enthusiast // PC Build advisor // LANGamer Alias:Ratmanscoop
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3922.4.2006 15:47

sammorris Pretty much,even if MS bought out some japanse devs,had a better relase AND had HD DVD in the system at launch,it still woudnt help them that 80% of games will be made for the PS3...and frankly the more they "grab" up devs the more I will put off buying the system becuse I loath it when they do it... heres an oddisty after I went thru the forum to the news thread I can edit my post that I edited befor at any time now 0-o I dont have to repeat and go thru the forum in order to edit news comments anymore 0_o odd....butif I have a new unedited new comment I ahve to go thru the forms to edit it....0-o

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 22 Apr 2006 @ 15:57

Copyright infringement is nothing more than civil disobedience to a bad set of laws. Lets renegotiate them.

Check out my crappy creations

4022.4.2006 15:53

Yep, much though Microsoft could have a good reputation, they don't do themselves any favours by being a pain in the backside to most people most of the time.

Afterdawn Addict // Silent PC enthusiast // PC Build advisor // LANGamer Alias:Ratmanscoop
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