The Thirteenth Post

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a US law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  The second portion of this act is often referred to as the “DMCA anti-circumvention provisions.” Section 17 U.S.C. 101 prohibits circumvention of “technological protection measures” that “effectively control access” to copyrighted works.  The law also prohibits trafficking in tools that are primarily designed, valuable or marketed for such circumvention (“Coder’s Rights Project Reverse Engineering FAQ”).  Section 1201 does discuss the exceptions for reverse engineering, as well as security research, encryption research, and the distribution of security tools.  However, these exceptions are very strict and there are few times when someone is entitled to reverse engineering or a security exception.  There is a list to help someone of what is allowed in section 1201, but even if someone follows the list, they can still be found guilty of circumvention.

Copyright law typically grants a certain set of exclusive rights to copyright owners.  This means that someone has to gain permission from the copyright owner in order to use this software. There are exceptions to this, where someone can purchase software through a license agreement and then permission is inferred.  There is also a Fair Use doctrine where courts have typically found reverse engineering for interoperability.


Yes it is ethical for companies to use DRM schemes to protect their intellectual property.  It’s ethical because the company is protecting its own intellectual property.  There is not a strong enough of an argument to make against using DRM.  No, it is not moral to rip a CD or DVD from the physical media to a portable audio or video file.  It is not only against the law to make these copies, but it takes away from the industries that produce these copyrighted materials.  I understand that these industries make lots of money and they can afford to not have every copy of every movie being paid for, but this isn’t who it really hurts.  Making digital copies typically hurts small independent companies because those companies only produce a limited number of works, so their income is already small.


Depending on the copyrighted work, it is ethical to reverse engineer or build circumvention tools that allow end users to fix, modify, or extend copyrighted work.  In the case mentioned  in the article “Soon It’ll be OK to Tinker with your car’s software after all”, the author discusses how vehicles have become so reliable on computers and software that to fix them, people have to be able to see the software.  This is a big problem for tractors that run on software, where there are not as many tractor repair shops as there are car repair shops.  Phone owners should also have the right to unlock their phone.  If I want to customize an option, then I should be able to do so because I own the phone.  I wouldn’t sell or reproduce it, but I would like to be able to customize it. Finally, researchers and developers should be allowed to probe and reverse engineer software for bugs and security flaws to make things more secure.  However, there should be some sort of clearance based on what is being investigated for security flaws.


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