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October 26, 2004
Lexmark ruling: Chock Full O' Nuggets
Wow.. Talk about a mother lode. I've just finished reading through the Lexmark Opinion from the Sixth Circuit. There's a whole lot of good stuff in it about copyright, fair use, and limitations on the DMCA. Here's my current favorite from one of the concurrences (note the shout out to Larry L's new book!):
I write separately to emphasize that our holding should not be limited to the narrow facts surrounding either the Toner Loading Program or the Printer Engine Program. We should make clear that in the future companies like Lexmark cannot use the DMCA in conjunction with copyright law to create monopolies of manufactured goods for themselves just by tweaking the facts of this case: by, for example, creating a Toner Loading Program that is more complex and creative than the one here, or by cutting off other access to the Printer Engine Program.
The crucial point is that the DMCA forbids anyone from trafficking in any technology that is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a [protected] work. 17 U.S.C. § 1201(2)(A) (emphasis added). The key question is the purpose of the circumvention technology. The microchip in SCCs toner cartridges is intended not to reap any benefit from the Toner Loading Program SCCs microchip is not designed to measure toner levels but only for the purpose of making SCCs competing toner cartridges work with printers manufactured by Lexmark.
By contrast, Lexmark would have us read this statute in such a way that any time a manufacturer intentionally circumvents any technological measure and accesses a protected work it necessarily violates the statute regardless of its purpose. Such a reading would ignore the precise language for the purpose of as well as the main point of the DMCA to prohibit the pirating of copyright-protected works such as movies, music, and computer programs. If we were to adopt Lexmarks reading of the statute, manufacturers could potentially create monopolies for replacement parts simply by using similar, but more creative, lock-out codes. Automobile manufacturers, for example, could control the entire market of replacement parts for their vehicles by including lock-out chips. Congress did not intend to allow the DMCA to be used offensively in this manner, but rather only sought to reach those who circumvented protective measures for the purpose of pirating works protected by the copyright statute. Unless a plaintiff can show that a defendant circumvented protective measures for such a purpose, its claim should not be allowed to go forward. If Lexmark wishes to utilize DMCA protections for (allegedly) copyrightable works, it should not use such works to prevent competing cartridges from working with its printer. Reading the DMCA in pari materia with the rest of the copyright code supports this interpretation.
The DMCA should be used as part of the copyright code as it applies to computer software codes and other digital media. To this extent, the specific purpose language of the DMCA modifies the more abstract language of the previous copyright law. As the Court explains, the fair use exception in copyright law explicitly looks to the purpose of the one making the copy in determining whether or not such copying violates the statute, and the DMCA itself contains a reverse engineering exception that also demonstrates Congresss aim merely to prevent piracy. I agree with the Court that both exceptions apply to SCCs actions in this case. But we should be wary of shifting the burden to a rival manufacturer to demonstrate that its conduct falls under such an exception in cases where there is no indication that it has any intention of No. 03-5400 Lexmark Intl v. Static Control Components Page 22 pirating a protected work. See, e.g., Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture 187 (2004) (noting the danger that in America fair use simply means the right to hire a lawyer to defend your right to create). A monopolist could enforce its will against a smaller rival simply because the potential cost of extended litigation and discovery where the burden of proof shifts to the defendant is itself a deterrent to innovation and competition. Misreading the statute to shift the burden in this way could allow powerful manufacturers in practice to create monopolies where they are not in principle supported by law. Instead, a better reading of the statute is that it requires plaintiffs as part of their burden of pleading and persuasion to show a purpose to pirate on the part of defendants.
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