Pluralistic: 01 Aug 2021

Today's links

EFF's interoperability graphic, with the Github logo matted in.

Github pledges legal aid for interoperators (permalink)

Last October, the RIAA launched a bizarre campaign of legal bullying against youtube-dl, a free/open library that lets people save Youtube (and other) videos for a variety of purposes, including critical analysis, offline viewing, archiving and remixing.

The RIAA attacked youtube-dl under Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA1201) a 1998 law that indiscriminately bans helping people remove DRM, even if no copyright infringement takes place.

DMCA1201 is a pure hazard. For decades, manufacturers have weaponized it to prohibit otherwise legal uses of their products: if a product is designed so that a use requires removing DRM, then using it that way becomes illegal.

That's true even if no copyright infringement takes place – it's true even if the DRM gets in the way of a copyright holder selling their own work to their audience.

That's how Apple uses it, with the Iphone and the App Store: Ios devices are designed to reject programs unless they are delivered via the App Store, which takes a 15-30% cut from software authors, who hold the copyright to those programs.

So Apple can use copyright law to stop a software author from selling a program to a software user, that the user wants to run on a device they own, unless the author gives Apple 15-30% of the price. This doesn't protect copyright – it protects Apple's business model.

If the software author were to supply a tool that jailbroke their customer's Iphone so the customer could install the program they just bought, that would violate the criminal provisions of DMCA1201, with a $500k fine and 5 years in prison for a first offense.

This is "felony contempt of business model" (in the memorable phrasing of Jay Freeman), and it's everywhere – it's how car and tractor manufacturers ban independent repair – and how Keurig locks you into using its coffee pods (and how HP locks you into using its ink carts).

DMCA1201 is a dumpster-fire and it should have been repealed a long time ago. EFF has a long-running lawsuit to overturn it on constitutional grounds:

But even in a crowded field of abusive corporate DMCA theories, the RIAA's attack on youtube-dl was a new low. Youtube-dl doesn't bypass any DRM! It just de-obfuscates a hidden URL. The idea that finding a hidden URL is the same as bypassing DRM is legally laughable.

Nevertheless, Github responded to the initial demand by removing youtube-dl. But the good news is that once EFF lawyers worked with Github's counsel to assure them that the RIAA's theory was bunk, Github restored youtube-dl.

Github also pledged $1m to a legal defense fund for bogus DMCA1201 claims, and this week, they rolled it out, and it's just amazing.

The fund doesn't just make money available to pay software authors' legal fees – it also establishes a partnership with Stanford law school, which means that programmers will have a much larger pool of legal talent to draw on.

And those law students will graduate with real-world experience of fighting bogus DMCA1201 claims.

This is a fantastic outcome, and it has historical precedent.

Back in 2005, Stanford's Center for Media and Social Impact produced a groundbreaking "Documentary Filmmakers' Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use," which demystified the farcical world of copyright clearances for docs.

Documentary filmmakers had been forced into a cramped and legally incoherent practice of paying for – or avoiding – even the most incidental uses of copyrighted works, because their insurers demanded written permission for every use.

The CMSI statement – and access to a huge pool of law students who'd work on cases – prompted the Media/Professional insurance company to offer fair-use friendly policies to filmmakers, and completely changed how doc makers related to fair use.

It's not just elite law-schools like Stanford's that can make this kind of difference. Brooklyn Law's Jonathan Askin and his law students run a successful clinic that overturned bullshit patents wielded by trolls against local startups.

And as Derek Slater pointed out in his seminal #noimnotgoingtolawschool essay, this kind of clinic work is crucial to equity for law students.

Without clinic work, law students graduate without actually knowing how to practice law (!), and must go into harness for large firms that can get away with horrific abuses as a result (law school debts are massive).

These kind of clinics don't just provide an invaluable community service that checks corporate abuse – it also equips new lawyers to resist the workplace abuses of Big Law.

There's no better subject for a tech-law clinic than fighting DMCA1201 abuse – because that's the law that is most often invoked to shut down Competitive Compatibility (AKA comcom/Adversarial Interoperability).

Without comcom, we will live in a high-tech society whose devices and systems are designed to configure US, rather than the other way around. Every one of us will eventually have a need, a disability, or a desire to do something that a product wasn't designed for.

If we let companies pursue felony contempt of business model as a strategy, those needs will be forever subordinated to the corporate priorities of tech giants. That's not a pretty future.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago RIP CCC founder Wau Holland,1284,45728,00.html

#20yrsago Disney to open Tokyo Disney Sea

#20yrsago RIP, Poul Anderson

#20yrsago Copy-protected CDs cracked two weeks after their introduction

#20yrsago PC Forum panel on P2P with Shirky and Gene Kan

#15yrsago How POWs in a Nazi camp got a Disney insignia

#15yrsago How thieves steal RFID-enabled cars

#15yrsago Diebold voting machines can be beaten with a switch-flip

#10yrsago Official London anti-terrorist publication says anarchists should be reported to local police

#10yrsago Perma-cookie wars continue: KISSMetrics sneaks cookies back onto your computer even if you turn off every cookie vector

#10yrsago French copyright enforcers: “Pirates are big spenders on legit content”

#10yrsago What Murdoch’s media empire did: the big picture

#10yrsago Flowchart shows the complexity of the New Zealand’s Internet Disconnection copyright law

#10yrsago Stephen Fry vs Ann Widdecombe: Catholic Church

#10yrsago Freedom of Information requests show that UK copyright consultation was a stitch-up; Internet disconnection rules are a foregone conclusion

#5yrsago Hugo Gernsback’s introduction to the first issue of Amazing Stories, 1926

#5yrsago The history of the home pregnancy test is a microcosm of misogyny, chauvinism, and erasure

#5yrsago Woman judge discovers that female arrestees are frequently denied pants, feminine hygiene products

#1yrago A deep dive into Mexico's new copyright law

#1yrago Populism is good for your health

#1yrago Grace is going home

#1yrago Challenge questions suck

#1yrago Apple's internal Right to Repair fight

#1yrago Self-bricking medical device

#1yrago Mexico's copyright vs self-determination and national sovereignty

#1yrago I'm being inducted into the Canadian SF/F hall of fame

Colophon (permalink)

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