22 July 2016Copyright

EFF sues US government over ‘ruinous’ DMCA provision

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has sued the US government in a complaint concerning the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DMCA) “anti-circumvention and anti-trafficking provisions”.

In a lawsuit filed at the US District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of two technology researchers, the EFF has targeted the US Copyright Office, Department of Justice and Library of Congress.

According to the EFF, although it was enacted to fight music and movie piracy, the DMCA, and in particular section 1201, has restricted people’s ability to “access, use, and even speak out about copyrighted materials”.

The provision’s anti-circumvention procedures ensure that breaking digital safeguards that protect copyrighted material is prohibited.

But the EFF claimed the ban applies even where people want to make non-infringing and fair use of the materials they are accessing including tinkering or repair devices they own, converting or remixing videos, or carrying out independent security research.

The EFF claimed the prospect of “costly legal battles” or criminal prosecution stymies creators, academics, inventors and researchers, and violates their First Amendment rights.

The foundation is representing Andrew Huang, a computer scientist and inventor, and his company Alphamax, as well as Matthew Green, a computer security researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

Huang  is developing devices for editing digital video streams but claimed his work could fall foul of section 1201.

“Section 1201 prevents the act of creation from being spontaneous,” the EFF quoted Huang as saying.

“I was born into a 1201-free world, and our future generations deserve that same freedom of thought and expression,” he added.

Green  wants to make sure there is trust in devices used to communicate, underpin financial transactions, and secure medical information. He claims he had to seek an exemption from the Library of Congress last year for his research.

Kit Walsh, staff attorney at the EFF, said: “Section 1201 threatens ordinary people with financial ruin or even a prison sentence for exercising those freedoms, and that cannot stand.

“If future generations are going to be able to understand and control their own machines, and to participate fully in making rather than simply consuming culture, section 1201 has to go.”

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