posted Aug 13, 2001

Software Double Bind
'The law of which Mr. Sklyarov ran afoul makes it illegal to manufacture or distribute a device designed to bypass technology that protects copyright material. His offense was to develop software that can disable the safeguards that are supposed to prevent electronic books from being distributed en masse over the Internet.'

'The law also makes it illegal for individuals to use such a program -- even to make a back-up copy of a book or movie or song for themselves, the type of copies traditionally allowed under copyright law. That is where the double bind comes in. Actually making such copies for personal use is not illegal. But it is against the law to break through the copy-protection measure to make the legal copies.'

Here's my favorite part of the article:

'Marybeth Peters, the chief of the United States Copyright Office, said that the exception was still meaningful, even without a market for anti- circumvention devices, because it allowed individuals to figure out for themselves how to go around a technological control measure.'

'"Many of the people I know can come up with a program to do it themselves, without being in the business of doing it," Ms. Peters said.'

Ms. Peters, if "many of the people you know" can come up with a program to do it themselves, you must be on awfully good terms with an awful lot of crackers and I sarcastically question whether somebody on such good terms with crackers belongs in the position of chief of the United States Copyright Office.

But speaking as a computer person (and I'd like to think a fairly good one) and not an ultra-high-level (i.e., "ultra-disconnected") administrator, while it is in theory within my capability to crack these protection measures, it would take me a very long time to do so, probably at least a year. A non-computer professional hasn't got a chance in hell of breaking these measures, unless they happen to stumble across a bug in the protection, which hardly counts.

Most known protection measures are weak, but that's a relative measurement. They're weak in the sense that hundreds or thousands of people can break them, and distribute the crack to billions. They are not considered weak because millions can break them.

Ms. Peters' suggestion that the measure is reasonable can only be interpreted as saying that only crackers have the right to fair use, which effectively denies that right to everybody else.



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