March 08, 2004

PDF, DMCA, and "Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty Of Law"

Tech Law Advisor (Kevin Heller) very kindly noted my previous "fair use" post, but the summary was just a little bit off:

Seth F. makes fair use of the report on "Big Media" Meets The "Bloggers" [pdf] by printing to file and removing some text in a nicely marked tag that says "Do not remove this tag under penalty of (DMCA) law".

Umm ... no offense meant. But the whole point of my postings is to avoid removing anything from that tag, because to do so is arguably a DMCA violation. And Adobe does not play nice with programmers who decrypt PDF's (note the Tech Law Advisor item was written before I updated my post with a procedure that could more closely be misdescribed per above).

[Not-a-digression: People don't understand why I worry so much about the impact of, e.g., a hatchet-job from Declan McCullagh, or a Slashdot-smear given the de facto support of "editor" Michael Sims. If I get into serious DMCA trouble, I'm never going to be able to defend myself from malicious press attacks.]

Anyway, if one prints (with the Adobe Acrobat reader) a usage-restricted PDF document to a file, that file begins with the following almost literal "Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty Of Law (DMCA)" notice:

% Removing the following eight lines is illegal, subject to the Digital Copyright Act of 1998.
mark currentfile eexec

Is it actually illegal to remove the lines under the DMCA? Maybe. Again, talk about "Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty Of Law"!

Now, this is well-known, and the decryption of it can even be found in a PDF FAQ

But my observation was that for the particular document under discussion the relevant text was already in the clear at this point. So one didn't have to circumvent the PDF restrictions, merely extract the available text.

I hope the previous many lines are not illegal, subject to the Digital Copyright Act of 1998. I hope.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , legal | on March 08, 2004 08:18 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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You're one of the few people to actually have been sued under the DMCA, as I understand it, so you have better grounds than most to be cautious.

It's strange, if you really think about it, what it means to extract lines from a file. What if you make a copy of the file minus those lines? The lines are still there in the original file. But this would surely be infringing if just editing the file would be, right?

And then, how about your perl script, which extracts individual lines from the file, but not the magic 8? That amounts to much the same thing as making a copy of the file minus the 8 lines, except that you're also removing some more lines.

And what kind of protection do these 8 lines provide? You can still read the file, albeit with some difficulty. You can make copies of the file, post it to the net, share with your friends, right? There is nothing in the file text which says differently. Maybe these magic 8 lines don't rise even to the very low threshold of an effective copyright protection measure as defined by the DMCA, given that the text is still readable by unaided humans.

Posted by: Cypherpunk at March 8, 2004 04:27 PM

Not sued (yet?!). Won a DMCA exemption by demonstrating the reasonable likelihood of being sued (doesn't help against half a dozen other laws though).

There's an aspect of the DMCA (1201(c)(3)) where there's no mandate for any particular processing for controls, no "broadcast flag":

"Nothing in this section shall require that the design of, or
design and selection of parts and components for, a consumer
electronics, telecommunications, or computing product provide for
a response to any particular technological measure, so long as
such part or component, or the product in which such part or
component is integrated, does not otherwise fall within the
prohibitions of subsection (a)(2) or (b)(1)."

So the question is whether one is circumventing (forbidden) or not responding (allowed).

There could be a very interesting legal case in this situation. Given the past history of Adobe, I am not eager to be it :-)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 9, 2004 08:02 AM