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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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August 31, 2004

Skylink Wins! Fed. Cir. Shoots Down Chamberlain's DMCA Claim

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Posted by Jason Schultz

This just in:

Skylink has won its DMCA case on appeal. It's a lengthy and interesting unanimous opinion by Judge Gajarsa, with some real gems reining in some of the overbroad and much-abused language of Section 1201:

The DMCA does not create a new property right for copyright owners. Nor, for that matter, does it divest the public of the property rights that the Copyright Act has long granted to the public. The anticircumvention and anti-trafficking provisions of the DMCA create new grounds of liability. A copyright owner seeking to impose liability on an accused circumventor must demonstrate a reasonable relationship between the circumvention at issue and a use relating to a property right for which the Copyright Act permits the copyright owner to withhold authorization-as well as notice that authorization was withheld. A copyright owner seeking to impose liability on an accused trafficker must demonstrate that the trafficker's device enables either copyright infringement or a prohibited circumvention. Here, the District Court correctly ruled that Chamberlain pled no connection between unauthorized use of its copyrighted software and Skylink's accused transmitter. This connection is critical to sustaining a cause of action under the DMCA. We therefore affirm the District Court's summary judgment in favor of Skylink.

Chamberlain's proposed construction would allow copyright owners to prohibit exclusively fair uses even in the absence of any feared foul use. It would therefore allow any copyright owner, through a combination of contractual terms and technological measures, to repeal the fair use doctrine with respect to an individual copyrighted work-or even selected copies of that copyrighted work. Again, this implication contradicts § 1201(c)(1) directly. Copyright law itself authorizes the public to make certain uses of copyrighted materials. Consumers who purchase a product containing a copy of embedded software have the inherent legal right to use that copy of the software. What the law authorizes, Chamberlain cannot revoke.


In a similar vein, Chamberlain’s proposed construction would allow any manufacturer of any product to add a single copyrighted sentence or software fragment to its product, wrap the copyrighted material in a trivial “encryption” scheme, and thereby gain the right to restrict consumers’ rights to use its products in conjunction with competing products. In other words, Chamberlain’s construction of the DMCA would allow virtually any company to attempt to leverage its sales into aftermarket monopolies—a practice that both the antitrust laws, see Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., 504 U.S. 451, 455 (1992), and the doctrine of copyright misuse, Assessment Techs. of WI, LLC v. WIREdata, Inc., 350 F.3d 640, 647 (7th Cir. 2003), normally prohibit.

(Thanks Dennis!)

Comments (8) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations


1. Branko Collin on September 1, 2004 12:40 PM writes...

I always wonder why people see these sort of things as victories. It's sort of throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks law making. Introduce a law like the DMCA, which is hilarious in the way it overreaches, but perhaps judges will not invalidate the entire law.

Similarly with Induce, where Hatch and his cronies say: "OK, so how about you come up with a proposal?" Yay, you got to tie your own noose.

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2. Randy Zagar on September 1, 2004 3:38 PM writes...

This ruling looks like it might also affect future DeCSS cases. I haven't done a detailed reading, but based on the quotes provided above, I would make the following arguments:
1. A movie on a DVD is clearly a product, or copyrighted material, wrapped in a trivial "encryption" scheme.
2. The use of DeCSS, even though it circumvents a protection measure, is tied directly to a particular "use" of the work that is explicity authorized by copyright law.
3. Using a trivial "encryption" scheme in conjunction with the DMCA to prevent consumers from using competing products to gain authorized access to a copyrighted work is not a construction that the Skylink ruling supports.

It's entirely possible that the 321-Studios' DVD-Copy case might have gone the other way if this test had been applied...

-Randy Zagar

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3. Randy Zagar on September 1, 2004 5:24 PM writes...

Just finished reading the ruling...

I see that the Judge attempted to distance the Skylink case from DeCSS cases by noting that Skylink is about "access" whereas all the DeCSS cases (321-Studios, Corley,etc.) are about "accessing" AND "copying" protected works.

I think the problem, IMHO+IANAL, is that the courts have not yet recognized that "accessing" and "copying" are not separable acts with digital media.

A prohibition on "copying" would also prohibit "access", which this rulings' construction of the DMCA does not permit.

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4. Brian Tanner on September 8, 2004 12:08 AM writes...

This site has the entire case in PDF and text format to read about the DMCA case.

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5. garage door openers on September 8, 2004 12:10 AM writes...

yeah read it at the site under the section "garage door opener news" interesting to see the whole case from start to finish in pdf.

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6. rik on September 20, 2004 9:21 AM writes...

do you have the garagedoor opener for 400 volts

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7. ik on September 20, 2004 9:22 AM writes...


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8. genie garage door opener on October 24, 2004 4:15 PM writes...

Yes other than this case there are garage door opener parts for 400 volts in the genie section of the website. Genie garage door openers and parts are at

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