July 28, 2010

Jailbreaking Copyright’s Scope

Filed under: DMCA, code, markets, open, phone — wseltzer @ 8:29 am

A bit late for the rule’s “triennial” cycle, the Librarian of Congress has released the sec 1201(a)(1)(C) exceptions from the prohibitions on circumventing copyright access controls. For the next three years, people will not be ” circumventing” if they “jailbreak” or unlock their smartphones, remix short portions of motion pictures on DVD (if they are college and university professors or media students, documentary filmmakers, or non-commercial video-makers), research the security of videogames, get balky obsolete dongled programs to work, or make an ebook read-aloud. (I wrote about the hearings more than a year ago, when the movie studios demoed camcording a movie — that didn’t work to stop the exemption.)

Since I’ve criticized the DMCA’s copyright expansion, I was particularly interested in the inter-agency debate over EFF’s proposed jailbreak exemption. Even given the expanded “para-copyright” of anticircumvention, the Register of Copyrights and NTIA disagreed over how far the copyright holder’s monopoly should reach. The Register recommended that jailbreaking be exempted from circumvention liability, while NTIA supported Apple’s opposition to the jailbreak exemption.

According to the Register (PDF), Apple’s “access control [preventing the running of unapproved applications] does not really appear to be protecting any copyright interest.” Apple might have had business reasons for wanting to close its platform, including taking a 30% cut of application sales and curating the iPhone “ecosystem,” those weren’t copyright reasons to bar the modification of 50 bytes of code.

NTIA saw it differently. In November 2009, after receiving preliminary recommendations from Register Peters, Asst. Secretary Larry Strickling wrote (PDF):

NTIA does not support this proposed exemption [for cell phone jailbreaking]…. Proponents argue that jailbreaking will support open communications platforms and the rights of consumers to take maximum advantage of wireless networks and associated hardware and software. Even if permitting cell phone “jailbreaking” could facilitate innovation, better serve consumers, and encourage the market to utilize open platforms, it might just as likely deter innovation by not allowing the developer to recoup its development costs and to be rewarded for its innovation. NTIA shares proponents’ enthusiasm for open platforms, but is concerned that the proper forum for consideration of these public policy questions lies before the expert regulatory agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Congress.

The debate affects what an end-user buys when purchasing a product with embedded software, and how far copyright law can be leveraged to control that experience and the market. Is it, as Apple would have it, only the right to use the phone in the closed “ecosystem” as dictated by Apple, with only exit (minus termination fees) if you don’t like it there? or is it a building block, around which the user can choose a range of complements from Apple and elsewhere? In the first case, we see the happenstance of software copyright locking together a vertically integrated or curated platform, forcing new entrants to build the whole stack in order to compete. In the second, we see opportunities for distributed innovation that starts at a smaller scale: someone can build an application without Apple’s approval, improving the user’s iPhone without starting from scratch.

NTIA would send these “public policy” questions to Congress or the Department of Justice (antitrust), but the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress properly handled them here. “[T]he task of this rulemaking is to determine whether the availability and use of access control measures has already diminished or is about to diminish the ability of the public to engage in noninfringing uses of copyrighted works similar or analogous to those that the public had traditionally been able to make prior to the enactment of the DMCA,” the Register says. Pre-DMCA, copyright left room for reverse engineering for interoperability, for end-users and complementors to bust stacks and add value. Post-DMCA, this exemption helps to restore the balance toward noninfringing uses.

In a related vein, economists have been framing research into proprietary strategies for two-sided markets, in which a platform provider is mediating between two sets of users — such as iPhone’s end-users and its app developers. In their profit-maximizing interests, proprietors may want to adjust both price and other aspects of their platforms, for example selecting fewer app developers than a competitive market would support so each earns a scarcity surplus it can pay to Apple. But just because proprietors want a constrained environment does not mean that the law should support them, nor that end-users are better off when the platform-provider maximizes profits. Copyright protects individual works against unauthorized copying; it should not be an instrument of platform maintenance — not even when the platform is or includes a copyrighted work.

November 29, 2009

New Paper: Anticircumvention Versus Open Innovation

Filed under: DMCA, code, copyright, innovation, law — wseltzer @ 3:38 pm

Why did it take nearly a decade for portable video to move beyond compact DVD players? Why can we do so much more with music CDs and their successors than with DVDs and theirs? I argue the difference is baked-in DRM and its legal side-effects.

Copyright scholars have been talking for a long time about the DMCA and its impact on fair use — if your media is locked by DRM, you may be forbidden technologically from legally permissible criticism or transformation. (See the extraordinary lengths to which the MPAA goes in trying to say this isn’t so.) This is a serious problem, but it has bothered me that the focus has often eclipsed another DRM-induced problem, the foreclosure of open innovation and development around digital media.

In a draft paper, The Imperfect is the Enemy of the Good: Anticircumvention Versus Open Innovation, that will appear in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal this spring, I argue that conflicts with open development are a serious architectural flaw in anticircumvention law and policy. As we recognize the value of disruptive and user-driven innovation, we should shape the law to help, not hinder, this decentralized development.

Under an anticircumvention regime, the producers of media content can authorize or deny authorization to technologies for playing their works. Open source technologies and their developers cannot logically be authorized. “Open-source DRM” is a contradiction in terms, for open source encourages user modification (and copyleft requires its availability), while DRM compels “robustness” against those same user modifications. Since DRM aims to control use of content while permitting the user to see or hear it, it can be implemented only in software or hardware that is able to override its user’s wishes—and can’t be hacked to do otherwise. For a DRM implementation to make any sense, therefore, its barriers against user modification of the rights management must be at least as strong as those against user access to its protected content.

I characterize a “DRM imperative” and explore the technical incompatibilities between regulation by code and exploration of code. We see DRM centralizing development and forcing the black-boxing of complementary media technology, in a widening zone as it mandates that protected media be played only on compliant devices, that those may output media content only to other compliant devices, etc. The home media network is thus progressively closed to open-source development.

Foreclosing open development costs us technically, economically, and socially. We lose predicted technological improvements, those of user-innovators (von Hippel) or disruptive technologies (Christensen) from outside the incumbent-authorized set, that could offer new options for content creators and audiences (such as better playback, library, mixing, and commerce options). We lose social and cultural opportunities for commons-based peer production.

You can find the draft paper at SSRN, bepress, or here in PDF.

October 8, 2009

Chilling Effects and Warming Effects

Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, censorship, copyright — wseltzer @ 5:26 pm

For several years, the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse has cataloging the effects of legal threats on online expression and helping people to understand their rights. Amid all the chilling we continue to see, it’s welcome to see rays of sunshine when bloggers stand up to threats, helping to stop the cycle of threat-and-takedown.

The BoingBoing team did this the other day when they got a legal threat from Ralph Lauren’s lawyers over an advertisement they mocked on the BoingBoing blog for featuring a stick-thin model. The lawyers claimed copyright infringement, saying “PRL owns all right, title, and interest in the original images that appear in the Advertisements.” Other hosts pull content “expeditiously” when they receive these notices (as Google did when notified of the post on Photoshop Disasters), and most bloggers and posters don’t counter-notify, even though Chilling Effects offers a handy counter-notification form.

Not BoingBoing, they posted the letter (and the image again) along with copious mockery, including an offer to feed the obviously starved models, and other sources picked up on the fun. The image has now been seen by many more people than would have discovered it in BoingBoing’s archives, in a pattern the press has nicknamed the “Streisand Effect.”

We use the term “chilling effects” to describe indirect legal restraints, or self-censorship, because most cease-and-desist letters don’t go through the courts. The lawyers (and non-lawyers) sending them rely on the in terrorem effects of threatened legal action, and often succeed in silencing speech for the cost of an e-postage stamp.

Actions like BoingBoing’s use the court of public opinion to counter this squelching. They fight legalese with public outrage (in support of legal analysis), and at the same time, help other readers to understand they have similar rights. Further, they increase the “cost” of sending cease-and-desists, as they make potential claimants consider the publicity risks being made to look foolish, bullying, or worse.

For those curious about the underlying legalities here, the Copyright Act makes clear that fair use, including for the purposes of commentary, criticism, and news reporting, is not an infringement of copyright. See Chilling Effects’ fair use FAQ. Yet the DMCA notice-and-takedown procedure encourages ISPs to respond to complaints with takedown, not investigation and legal balancing. Providers like BoingBoing’s Priority Colo should also get credit for their willingness to back their users’ responses.

As a result of the attention, Ralph Lauren apologized for the image: “After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body. We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

May the warming (and proper attention to the health of fashion models) continue!

September 25, 2009

Updates on the State of the Chill

Filed under: Berkman, Chilling Effects, DMCA, Internet — wseltzer @ 1:28 pm

With the help of Chilling Effects’s terrific new research associate, Rebecca Schoff, we’ve been updating the “Weather Reports” blog to provide timely updates on the climate for free expression online. Recent posts check in with the wild west of fair use, Veoh’s DMCA safe-harbor victory and some bites at the Apple. Add Chill weather RSS or follow @chillingeffects on twitter or identi.ca.

We’re also working behind the scenes to get takedown notices posted more quickly. In conjunction with Blogger, we’ve been working to help Bloggers get better information about DMCA notices demanding removal of material from their blogs, so they can determine whether to remove or edit the posts, or to counter-notify instead.

May 8, 2009

Theater of the DMCA Anticircumvention Hearings

Filed under: DMCA, copyright, events — wseltzer @ 8:30 am

Every three years, as mandated by Congress in Sec. 1201(a)(1)(C) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Librarian of Congress and Register of Copyrights conduct a rulemaking on exemptions from the DMCA’s prohibition on circumvention of access controls protecting copyrighted works. This year’s revival opened in Stanford, then moved here to Washington DC for a three-day run.

Now Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works may not sound like a Broadway hit, but there was plenty of drama (for the copyright geek, at least). I live-tweeted and Identi.ca-posted the hearings, and offer a few highlights from the show here:

As at past runs (2000, ‘03, and ‘06), DVD’s CSS technological protections were the star attraction. Film and media educators, librarians, filmmakers, and creators of transformative works argued that they should be permitted to circumvent CSS to take DVD clips for fair and non-infringing purposes: film studies, media literacy, classroom teaching of the law or medical ethics, creation of commentary in the videographic “language” of the works to which they respond.

Rebecca Tushnet, law professor and founder of the Organization for Transformative Works called the anticircumvention rule a modern-day literacy test or poll tax: law-abiding creators are chilled by the welter of rules seemingly designed to privilege some users over others. Francesca Coppa and Tisha Turk showed the direct impact of the circumvention rule on women and minority creators offering alternative readings of mainstream culture, while educators noted that a too-narrow exemption might let teachers make art with media clips but forbid students from using the same techniques after graduation.

The hearings’ setup is a perfect theater of the absurd: First, the LOC is authorized to exempt non-infringing users of “classes of works” from the circumvention prohibition, but not to legalize the tools needed to circumvent access controls (which are prohibited by 1201(a)(2)). That leaves all participants dancing around the question of how users are to exercise their rights, if granted — “surreal,” as Jon Band put it. Likewise, we all ignore the ready availability of DeCSS and the near-instant posting of DRM-free versions of anything issued in “protected” format.

Then Steve Metalitz, representing a Group of 9 copyright industries, argued that the proponents of an exemption were taking the law too seriously if they were being chilled by the remote threat of an anticircumvention lawsuit. Was he really advocating that we disregard the law??

The proceedings jumped the line to farce when Fritz Attaway and a colleague from the MPAA pulled out a cinematic demonstration of just how to camcord a movie from your television screen. (You start with a $900 HD video camera, a tripod, a flat-screen television, and a room that can be completely darkened.) Tim Vollmer captured the whole scene on a video of his own. Mind you, this is the same industry that has lobbied to make a crime of camcording in movie theaters, telling us how to frame shots properly from the television. (As Fred Benenson notes, they’re also demonstrating DRM’s impossibility of closing the “analog hole.”)

Finally, Bruce Turnbull, representing DVD CSS-licensing body, DVD-CCA, said we were all in the wrong place (LOC, rather than Congress) talking about the wrong subject. 1201 isn’t a copyright protection, but a technology protection, aimed at protecting the “commercial viability of the technological protection measure.” This may be operationally true, but it would sure surprise many in Congress who put anticircumvention into Title 17.

Other acts in the drama included Chris Soghoian’s argument for access to media after authentication servers go defunct; and Alex Halderman and Blake Reid’s arguments that security researchers should be able to investigate the hazards of DRM to personal computer security. Up today: eBooks, dongles, and cell phones.

Other reviews: Pat Aufderheide, Rebecca Tushnet, and Temple’s Media Education Lab live twitter-stream

October 14, 2008

McCain’s YouTube Takedown Inspires Fair Use Fervor

Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, censorship, copyright, politics — wseltzer @ 9:28 pm

There’s nothing like a misfired copyright claim to make a presidential campaign see the value of fair use. After finding several of its campaign videos removed from YouTube for copyright claims, the McCain-Palin campaign has fired off an eloquent defense of fair use — and another illustration of where the DMCA’s counter-notification process falls short.

The McCain campaign complains that its ads and web videos posted to YouTube have been removed on the complaint of news organizations whose footage was quoted:

[O]verreaching copyright claims have resulted in the removal of non-infringing campaign videos from YouTube, thus silencing political speech. Numerous times during the course of the campaign, our advertisements or web videos have been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine. The uses at issue have been the inclusion of fewer than ten seconds of footage from news broadcasts in campaign ads or videos, as a basis for commentary on the issues presented in the news reports, or on the reports themselves. These are paradigmatic examples of fair use…

Of course the McCain-Palin team could counter-notify, but the DMCA’s 10-14 business day waiting period makes that option next to useless, when “10 days can be a lifetime in a political campaign.”

The campaign proposes an expedited process for political campaigns. EFF’s Fred von Lohmann calls for a broader solution, to protect the bottom-up political expression of citizens, not just those who would be our leaders. We shouldn’t have to battle bogus copyright claims to debate the debates. And we shouldn’t exempt politicians from the effects of their laws, so perhaps their copyright misadventures can give them a bit more sympathy for the rest of us. Let’s hope this fair use defense lasts longer than a DMCA waiting period.

August 12, 2008

Olympics, YouTube, Protest, Copyright

Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, censorship, copyright — wseltzer @ 6:13 pm

Students for a Free Tibet posted video of a Free Tibet protest to YouTube. YouTube pulled it, in response to a copyright complaint from the International Olympic Committee. From the
copy posted to vimeo (and thence re-posted to YouTube, it appears), it’s hard to see a colorable copyright infringement claim. Sure, the image of the Olympics’ (trademarked) interlocking rings and (copyrightable) mascot showed up, but those uses would be fair and non-infringing.

We see once again that the DMCA’s unbalanced takedown scheme encourages overzealous claiming of copyright, as an easy route to removal of unflattering content. With those already inclined toward enforcement zealotry, that pushes them far overboard.

Update 8/15: It appears that YouTube reinstated the video after the IOC indicated it did not really intend to pursue a copyright claim. Still sad that this level of assurance isn’t required before claims are filed in the first place.

July 1, 2008

The RIAA has an ACTA Wish-List

Filed under: DMCA, Internet, copyright, law — wseltzer @ 9:32 pm

Remember ACTA, the draft proposed “harmonization” of copyright found on Wikileaks? In keeping with the view that harmonization is a one-way ratchet up, RIAA has some suggestions for the US Trade Representative.

J. Online Infringing Activities

Parties shall:
1. Provide exclusive rights under copyright to unambiguously cover Internet use.
2. Establish appropriate rules regarding liability of service/content providers:
(a) Establishing primary liability where a party is involved in direct infringement; and ensure the application of principles of secondary liability, including contributory liability and vicarious civil liability, as well as criminal liability and abetting if appropriate.
(b) Establishing liability for actions which, taken as a whole, encourage infringement by third parties, in particular with respect to products, components and/or services whose predominant application is the facilitation of infringement.
3. Provide remedies and injunctive relief against any entity that:
(a) Creates or otherwise maintains directories of infringing materials;
(b) Provides “deeplinks” to infringing files;
(c) Commits any act, practice or service that has little or no purpose or effect other than to facilitate infringement, or that intentionally induces others to infringe (specifically allowing proof of “intent” by reference to objective standards–i.e. a reasonable person would surmise such an intent);
4. Require internet service providers and other intermediaries to employ readily available measures to inhibit infringement in instances where both legitimate and illegitimate uses were facilitated by their services, including filtering out infringing materials, provided that such measures are not unduly burdensome and do not materially affect the cost or efficiency of delivering legitimate services;
5. Require Internet service providers or other intermediaries to restrict or terminate access to their systems with respect to repeat infringers.
6. Establish liability against internet service providers who, upon receiving notices of infringement from content provides via e­mail, or by telephone in cases of pre-release materials or in other exigent circumstances, fail to remove the infringing content, or access to such content, in an expeditious manner, and in no case more than 24 hours; or
Provide that, in the absence of proof to the contrary, an internet service provider shall be considered as knowing that the content it stores is infringing or illegal, and thus subject to liability for copyright infringement, after receiving notification from the right holder or its representative, normally in writing, including by email or by telephone in the case of pre-release materials or in other exigent circumstances.
7. Establish, adequately fund and provide training for a computer crimes investigatory unit.
8. Provide injunctive relief against intermediaries whose services are used for infringing activities regardless of whether damages are available.
9. Establish policies against the use of government networks and computers, as well as those networks and computers of companies that have government contracts, to prevent the use of such computers and networks for the transmission of infringing materials, including a ban on the installation of p2p applications except, and to the extent to which, some particular government use requires such installation.
10. Consideration to be given to the following: possible rules on data retention, the right to information giving right holders access to data held by ISPs in the preparation and course of proceedings including in civil proceedings, and availability of complete and accurate WHOIS data

RIAA’s proposal is a compendium of everything they dislike about rulings that have gone against them: the lack of a “making available” right (Atlantic v. Howell); the requirement of knowledge before non-volitional actors such as ISPs can be held liable (RTC v. Netcom); the provisions of safe-harbor that let ISPs avoid liability (17 USC 512); the limitation of vicarious liability to situations where the proprietor has a right and ability to control; the possibility that non-infringing use could save a technology with infringing uses (Betamax); the status of hyperlinks (Perfect 10 v. Amazon).

Add in codification of stronger versions of rulings they like such as Grokster, and you’ve got a prescription for utterly insane copyright law! As the LA Times’ Jon Healy puts it, the RIAA’s ACTA would turn ISPs into enforcers, when they should be simple conduits.

Let’s hope enough ISPs, tech companies, public interest groups, libraries, educators, and friends can keep this RIAA wishlist from becoming our nightmare. We should start a corresponding wish-list, extravagant but alternate-universe plausible, would include on the other side. I’d start with:

  • Require knowledge of the infringing character of the use as an element of copyright infringement. (Current copyright law is strict liability, meaning you can be held liable for infringement even if you did not know you were copying material without authorization.)
  • Limit copyright infringement to commercial exploitation, as recommended by Cato’s Tim Lee. Non-commercial use would be a complete defense.
  • Add your own!
  • June 6, 2008

    DMCA “Repeat Infringers”: Scientology Critic’s Account Reinstated after Counter-Notification

    Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, copyright, law — wseltzer @ 6:56 am

    The Scientology critic known as “Wise Beard Man” returned to YouTube this week after successfully filing counter-notifications to copyright claims that had earlier been made against his account. The takedown and delayed return illuminate another of the lesser-known shoals of the DMCA safe harbor, the 512(i)(1)(A) “repeat infringers” consideration.

    As Mark Bunker, the critic, describes it, he had initially set up a YouTube account under the name XenuTV, where he posted clips including commentary on Scientology. Some of these clips came from other sources, and two of them attracted DMCA takedown requests from Viacom, for “Colbert Report” clips in which Stephen talked about Scientology. These might well have been fair use, or he might have chosen to remove them, but as Bunker says, “Before I could act on the takedown notices and remove the offending clips, the accounts were canceled.”

    Bunker began using a second YouTube account, XenuTV1, posting only clips of entirely his own material. His advice to the “Anonymous” critics made him a sort of elder statesman to the movement, and his account attracted over 10,000 subscribed viewers.

    In April, however, this second account was abruptly canceled. Apparently, YouTube had discovered that it was Mr. Bunker’s second, after a canceled first, and interpreted the DMCA to compel termination of this second account.

    The provision they were invoking was 512(i)(1)(A), which sets some conditions for service provider eligibility for shelter in the DMCA safe harbor:

    “The limitations on liability established by this section shall apply to a service provider only if the service provider—
    (A) has adopted and reasonably implemented, and informs subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network of, a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network who are repeat infringers”

    Now the DMCA does not define “repeat infringers,” and no cases have yet done so, so it’s left to ISPs to determine how to do so. Copyright claimants urge that two takedown notices make someone a “repeat infringer” whose account must be terminated (let’s hope it’s just the account, and not the subscriber himself!). In contrast, noted copyright scholar and attorney David Nimmer suggests that the provision should be construed strictly, to require “repeat infringer” sanctions only against those who have more than once been found liable for copyright infringement after legal proceedings. Nimmer, Repeat Infringers, 52 J. Copyright Soc’y 167 (2005). Nimmer also notes that unless “repeat” is limited to the service at issue, all the major motion picture studios would be ineligible for online posting accounts, since all have had multiple copyright infringement judgments rendered against them.

    Nor does the DMCA define “appropriate circumstances” for account termination, so mitigating factors might well be raised against the termination of any particular account. The DMCA pre-condition is open to interpretation.

    It appears, however, that YouTube determined that the two Viacom notices (Feb. 2, 2007, and Jan. 15, 2008) levied against Mr. Bunker’s XenuTV account marked him as a “repeat infringer.” Therefore, to maintain safe-harbor eligibility, YouTube felt compelled to terminate the second account, XenuTV1, upon recognizing that it was the same individual. Notwithstanding a complete absence of copyright claims against the XenuTV1 account, YouTube apparently concluded the risks of continuing to host the marked “repeat infringer” were too great.

    Notably, 512(i) is a general precondition to the safe-harbor. Failure to “adopt[] and reasonably implement[]” a repeat infringers policy in one instance could be used against a provider as an argument to deny it the benefits of safe-harbor protection in an entirely unrelated case. YouTube’s risk calculation in responding to Mr. Bunker’s accounts, therefore, was not merely whether Viacom would sue over the Colbert clips Mr. Bunker had posted and YouTube removed, but whether entirely different copyright holders, complaining about other accounts’ postings, would invoke a failure to remove Mr. Bunker’s account as non-compliance with the DMCA’s eligibility requirements and seek to hold YouTube liable for other users’ infringements.

    Mr. Bunker’s story concludes successfully, however, thanks in part to Viacom’s good sense. YouTube invited Mr. Bunker to file counter-notifications for the Viacom clips, and he did so in mid-May, asserting that the “mistake or misidentification of the material” was in not recognizing its use as fair. Viacom’s acceptance of the counter-notifications allowed YouTube to remove the “infringer” stain from Mr. Bunker’s account. For his part, Mr. Bunker says he was supported in his counter-notifications by the public messages of support and group effort to contact YouTube and Viacom to lay the groundwork, including those of VictoireFlamel and The Masked Analyst, who has a series of videos explaining the DMCA and counter-notification. Bunker reports that Viacom’s attorneys said they “wouldn’t be hard-nosed about fair use clips.”

    Ten to 14 days after the counter-notification, therefore, when Viacom did not go to court to press its original copyright infringement claims, YouTube allowed the XenuTV accounts’ reinstatement.

    While Mr. Bunker’s story ends happily for fair use, another story this week illustrates the danger of taking DMCA notifications as the mark of “repeat infringement”: University of Washington researchers reported getting DMCA takedowns against their laser printers, allegedly for sharing copies of “Iron Man” and “Indiana Jones.” MPAA agents sent DMCA notices without any verification that material was available from the accused IP addresses, much less that the materials infringed copyright. Meanwhile, universities report that they get DMCA takedowns alleging infringement by “shared folders” even when filters such Audible Magic make sharing impossible by blocking any transmission of files.

    If the DMCA as a whole is to have any coherence, providers shouldn’t lose DMCA protection or subscribers lose their hosting based on such flimsy allegations.

    March 7, 2008

    Air Force DMCA-Bombs YouTube

    Filed under: Add new tag, Chilling Effects, DMCA, law — wseltzer @ 6:21 pm

    Over at Wired’s Threat Level blog, Kevin Poulsen reports on a new DMCA overreach: the U.S. Air Force complained (via outside counsel) (PDF) about his posting of their recruiting video. The post, Kevin says, was initially made at the Air Force’s invitation.

    If the government created this work, then the DMCA claim is improper. Works of the U.S. government are not copyrightable. But the statute allows the government to receive copyright assignments, so if an independent contractor created the video, still available at the Air Force’s (non .mil) site, the government could meet that technical requisite of the DMCA.

    The DMCA also requires that the notifier assert the posting was unauthorized. Poulsen’s article, however, says the Air Force sent Wired the ad and “thanked THREAT LEVEL for agreeing to run it.” That doesn’t quite square with the DMCA-required statement that the notice-sender “ha[s] a good faith belief that none of the materials or activities listed above has been authorized by the U.S. Air Force, its agents, or the law.”

    Even if the Air Force’s DMCA claim is truthful, however, it’s still a policy overreach. Wired posted the video in order to report on government recruiting efforts; the video’s dissemination is part of that First-Amendment protected discussion, whether it happens on or off government websites. The DMCA makes it too easy to takedown first, think later.

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