Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Another Abuse of the DMCA

Jay Barnson of Rampant Games reported on yet another abuse of the DMCA. This time, the abusers are car manufacturers.

Modern cars are equipped with computers, which means repairs and auto work now require more than just hitting your engine with a hammer. It seems that in order for non-dealership service shops to fix your cars, they need to circumvent the encryption of your engine.

And of course, according to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, circumventing “technological protection measures” is a felony.

The DMCA was passed under the impression that artists and authors would produce more creative works since without these protections they had no incentive in the modern age. What we’ve seen is security researchers barred from discussing research on computer security, which also discourages said research in an age when we need such research the most. What we’ve seen is Wal-mart, Best Buy, and a number of other major retail companies use the DMCA to prevent comparison shopping websites from posting uncopyrightable prices. What we’ve seen is the removal of public domain works from sites such as The Internet Archive. For a list of abuses as of 2003, see the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s list of abusive DMCA subpoenas and takedown demands.

The DMCA doesn’t require the accuser to demonstrate proof. No judge needs to be involved to allow overreaching takedown powers. If the accuser sends a notice to an ISP, the ISP needs to take steps immediately or be found at fault and liable for damages. If you upload a video you made to YouTube, and Viacom or 20th Century Fox sends a DMCA notice to YouTube accusing you of uploading THEIR content, you can defend yourself…after the fact. Most likely you will find that your video has been removed, even if it was completely original and under YOUR copyright. Imagine if Microsoft or EA managed to get your game removed from your servers by sending a DMCA notice to your ISP.

And now apparently the DMCA is being used to lock-in service work for car dealerships. Seriously? In this case, it doesn’t even involve a copyrighted work! It also discourages hobbyist car mechanics from tinkering with their cars. It’s disgusting.

So apparently after the DMCA gives all of these absurd powers away, we need laws to patch up specific abuses. Researchers can do research under an exception. If you’re blind and want to be able to listen to ebooks? You need an exception. Now there is a Right to Repair Act on the way to allow people to take their cars anywhere they want for service. Where’s the Right to Repair Act for everything else?

The public loses again.