August 31, 2004

Chamberlain v. Skylink (Garage Door Openers), DMCA, and fair use

So, the Chamberlain vs Skylink DMCA case has been decided in favor of the right to have compatible garage door openers. But as I've noted in an earler Chamberlain v. Skylink post, I'm not anywhere nearly as enthused as many others I'm afraid I've again turned into Eeyore.


As I read it, the whole opinion boils down to the judicial version of a Monty Python-ese statement of: "Stop that! It's silly.". Or, in legalese:

Under Chamberlain's proposed construction, explicated at oral argument, disabling a burglar alarm to gain "access" to a home containing copyrighted books, music, art, and periodicals would violate the DMCA; anyone who did so would unquestionably have "circumvent[ed] a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under [the Copyright Act]." § 1201(a)(1). ... Yet, were we to read the statute's "plain language" as Chamberlain urges, disabling a burglar alarm would be a per se violation of the DMCA.

My take on this is the inverse of many other commentators. I think here, the DMCA 1201(c) fair-use-not-affected section is being used as the statutory support for the basic statement of "It's silly". But that doesn't mean anything should be read into other instances:

We leave open the question as to when [fair use] might serve as an affirmative defense to a prima facie violation of [the DMCA]. For the moment, we note only that though the traditional fair use doctrine of [fair use] remains unchanged as a defense to copyright infringement under § 1201(c)(1), circumvention is not infringement.

That is, nothing here has been resolved regarding the tension between fair use and copying. Here's the critical part (emphasis added):

Such an entitlement, however, would go far beyond the idea that the DMCA allows copyright owner to prohibit "fair uses . . . as well as foul." Reimerdes, 111 F. Supp. 2d at 304. Chamberlain's proposed construction would allow copyright owners to prohibit exclusively fair uses even in the absence of any feared foul use.

All this is saying is, basically, that if there's no conflict between fair use and anything else, the DMCA can't be used as, in effect, a patent for any product. That's nice. It's good for other businesses. But it doesn't address the issues of DMCA reform, which are exactly that conflict.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on August 31, 2004 11:45 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
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There should be a law against legalese. My law professor once stated the principle such: One's liberty ends where another's jaw begins. Here's a commmon sense approach: Don't encroach upon another's peace of mind. If what you do causes harm to another, and it is an unintended, but coincidental, harm, common sense should be used, and not legalese. I know that I am not saying much, but just rambling for the sake of liking you blog.

Posted by: Beat Waydown at September 1, 2004 09:03 AM