September 04, 2003

Chamberlain v. Skylink - Garage Door Opener as (not) DMCA Violation

Chamberlain v. Skylink, aka "Is a Garage Door Opener a Circumvention Device?" is the hot DMCA topic now. A decision has been rendered that it not automatically (pun intended), as a matter of law ("summary judgment") such a circumvention device. This is what passes for a DMCA victory nowadays ...

IP Justice has been publicizing the outcome, with comments and a case archive (Hmm, competition, there's more items there than in the EFF case archive)

I've seen commentary today from at least Ed Felten, Ernest Miller at Lawmeme and Derek Slater.

The key passage causing the most argument seems to be this (emphasis mine):

Furthermore, the homeowner has a legitimate expectation that he or she will be able to access the garage even if his transmitter is misplaced or malfunctions. During oral arguments on this motion, Plaintiff acknowledged that under its interpretation of DMCA, a garage owner violates the Act if he or she loses the transmitter that came with its Chamberlain rolling code GDO, but manages to operate the opener by somehow circumventing the rolling code. This court agrees with Defendant that the DMCA does not require such a conclusion.

I submit this is an instructive illustration of my focus on whether the court considers the plaintiff or the defendant to be a good guy or a bad guy. This passage is in essence "The defendant is not a Bad Guy. It's arguably a Good Guy. So they aren't required to be slammed".

That sort of analysis is NOT the whole of any decision, and I'd be misinterpreted if it were thought that was my view. However, reading decisions, I've come to believe that perception matters much more than lawyers like to admit, at least in public.

The following passage, a little earlier, has a slight misspeaking, but that's not the problem (again emphasis mine)

The district court in Reimerdes was looking at a set of facts quite distinct from those presented here: Plaintiff there had encoded its DVD's and licensed the software necessary to circumvent this encoding process to manufacturers of DVD players. As a result, the plaintiff in Reimerdes did in fact authorize certain circumvention of its technological protective measure pursuant to a license. It did not authorize circumvention by means of nonlicensed software.

The judge obviously meant to say decryption where she has circumvention. But again, that's just a small misuse of wording.

Honestly, what I think she's struggling to say, is that in Reimerdes (the 2600 DeCSS case) the plaintiffs were Good Guys protecting Intellectual Property threatened by Pirates/Bad Guys. But here, "activating a Garage Door Opener" (GDO) isn't Intellectual Property, the defendant isn't a Bad Guy, so the plaintiff should stop being silly.

Indeed, in a way, that's the core of the actually decision:

CONCLUSION The court concludes there are disputes of material fact concerning whether the computer program in Chamberlain's rolling code is a work protected by copyright and whether the owner of a Chamberlain rolling code GDO is authorized to use the Model 39 universal transmitter.

But to consider this a big DMCA victory only shows how bad is everything else.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , legal | on September 04, 2003 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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On November 13, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted Skylink's motion for summary judgment and held that Skylink did not violate the DMCA.

Posted by: Andra Greene at November 14, 2003 02:11 PM