In 1998, Bill Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act into law. At the time, most of the attention was on Section 512 - AKA "notice and takedown," which absolves platforms from liability for users' infringement provided they respond quickly to removal demands.

Over the years, this has been horrifically abused, with everyone from post-Soviet dictators to sexual predators to cults and literal Nazis using spurious copyright claims to censor their critics, often without consequence.


But the real ticking time-bomb in the DMCA is Section 1201, the "anti-circumvention" rule, which makes it a felony (punishing by a 5-year prison sentence and a $500k fine) to help people tamper with "access controls" that restrict copyrighted works.

This rule means that if a company designs its products so that you have to remove DRM to use them in legal ways, those uses become felonies. DMCA 1201 is how Apple and John Deere make it a felony for anyone except them to fix their products.


They just design their devices so that after the repair is complete, you need an unlock code to get the system to recognize new parts. Bypassing the unlock code defeats an "access control" and is thus a literal crime.

But there's no copyright infringement here! Swapping a new part into a phone, a tractor or a ventilator is not a copyright infringement. And yet, it is still a (criminal) copyright VIOLATION. DMCA 1201 lets companies felonize ANY conduct that is adverse to their shareholders.


It's "felony contempt of business model" and you can go to prison for it.

Thing is, it would be easy to fix this law. If you thought that DRM deserved its own legal protection, you could get there just by adding "this only applies when copyright infringement takes place."


But from the very first days, it was clear that DMCA1201 was NOT about preventing copyright infringement, it was about enforcing business models. The first users of this law were DVD manufacturers who wanted to stop the public from "de-regionalizing" their DVD players.

The manufacturers and studios had cooked up a racket where they would sell DVDs at different prices in different countries, and they didn't want Americans shopping for cheap DVDs in India.


@pluralistic I'm someone who the region-locking has inconvenienced!

My family moved from the US to NZ, and I have DVDs from both regions. It was hard to find a DVD player that wouldn't refuse to play some of those.

Now I've dug those DVDs out of storage & De-CSS is handling them beautifully! There was a tiny added hurdle upon install due presumably to it's questionable legality, but otherwise everything just works!


@alcinnz @pluralistic Can you imagine the looks of my kids when I told them that there was no legal way for us to play the DVD they got as present?

“But dad, your laptop has a DVD drive!” — “It does, but it runs GNU Linux, so we would have to use libdvdcss, which would take me just a few minutes, but we cannot do this, because it would circumvent ineffective DRM. Let me tell you about the time when you could get codes of that on a T-Shirt while tens of thousands of teens got sued”.

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