Friday, May 24, 2002

Can reporting about anti-copyright protection be a violation of the dmca?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic."

- Arthur C. Clarke

Some of the large music labels started selling CDs that can't be played on computers. The idea, simply, was to keep people from using their CD players and CD burners to make copies of the songs on the disks. The outer tracks of the CDs contained errors that kept them from playing on computers. Normal audio CD players just ignore the errors. Some bright people realized that there was a very simple way around the anti-copyright protection. Reuters reported on the means by which the protection was being circumvented in an article entitled, "'Copy-Proof' CDs Cracked with 99-Cent Marker Pen" They even reported on their own (successful) attempt using the method described.

Might Reuters be prosecuted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), since their article technically violates the Act by spreading information on how to use technology to get around the record labels' safeguards? NewsForge suggests that it is a possibility:
In yet another example of how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act could trample on the First Amendment, Reuters may have violated the U.S. law by describing in a story this week how Sony's "copy-proof" protection for CDs can be defeated with a magic marker.

Of course, that would mean dozens of publications such as and, which carried the wire service's report, also violated the DMCA, and this very NewsForge article violated the DMCA by linking to the story.

What's this quaint notion about freedom of the press in the United States? Well, under the still enforced DMCA's anti-circumvention section, it's illegal to market information to the public on how to break copy protections, and the Reuters article did just that.
NewsForge also implies that Reuters might have been looking for a fight by writing and distributing the article. Will the government charge them with a violation of the Act? They've let millions of people know how to overcome anti-copyright protection.

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