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August 24, 2005

Fed. Circuit Smacks Down Bad DMCA Decision Re: Independent Repair Techs

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Posted by Jason Schultz

Hurray! Justice delayed ends up being justice rendered. Over a year ago, StorageTek managed to convince a district court in Boston to misuse standard copyright law and the DMCA anticompetitively and shut down an independent service vendor who offered repair and maintenance on StorageTek machines. (By doing so, StorageTek was able to leverage the vast majority of service contracts on its library units for itself.)

Today, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals reversed [PDF] the trial court's order, holding that third parties can lawfully repair and maintain another company's software under Section 117 of the Copyright Act and, more importantly, that the DMCA cannot be used to sue such vendors when the repair and maintanence itself doesn't violate any rights under copyright law. The decision follows up on the Court's previous vindication of Skylink in its DMCA case against Chamberlain over garage door openers.

Here are some of the choice quotes from the opinion:

In Chamberlain we held that when Congress enacted the DMCA, it “chose to create new causes of action for circumvention and for trafficking in circumvention devices. Congress did not choose to create new property rights.” 381 F.3d at 1203. Accordingly, we held that section 1201 “prohibits only forms of access that bear a reasonable relationship to the protections that the Copyright Act otherwise affords copyright owners.” Id. at 1202. A copyright owner alleging a violation of section 1201(a) consequently must prove that the circumvention of the technological measure either “infringes or facilitates infringing a right protected by the Copyright Act.” Id. at 1203.


We held above that it is unlikely StorageTek will succeed on the merits of its copyright claim. To the extent that CHE’s activities do not constitute copyright infringement or facilitate copyright infringement, StorageTek is foreclosed from maintaining an action under the DMCA. See Chamberlain, 381 F.3d at 1202. That result follows because the DMCA must be read in the context of the Copyright Act, which balances the rights of the copyright owner against the public’s interest in having appropriate access to the work. See id. at 1199 (“the severance of access from [copyright] protection . . . would also introduce a number of irreconcilable problems in statutory construction”); 17 U.S.C. § 1201(c)(1) (“Nothing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defense to copyright infringement . . . .”); see also Sony Corp. of Am. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 429 (1984). Therefore, courts generally have found a violation of the DMCA only when the alleged access was intertwined with a right protected by the Copyright Act. [citations ommited]; accord Universal City Studios v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429, 435 (2d Cir. 2001) (explaining that Congress enacted the DMCA to help copyright owners protect their works from piracy). To the extent that StorageTek’s rights under copyright law are not at risk, the DMCA does not create a new source of liability.

Even if StorageTek were able to prove that the automatic copying of the software into RAM constituted copyright infringement, however, it would still have to show that the LEM or ELEM facilitated that infringement. See Chamberlain, 381 F.3d at 1202. If such a nexus were not required, the careful balance that Congress sought to achieve between the “interests of content creators and information users” would be upset. See H.R. Rep. No. 105-551, pt. 1, at 26.
A court must look at the threat that the unauthorized circumvention potentially poses in each case to determine if there is a connection between the circumvention and a right protected by the Copyright Act.... In this case, the threat from CHE’s circumvention of GetKey is distinct from the dangers that StorageTek’s copyright protects against. See 17 U.S.C. § 106.

A good day for the public interest and for compeittion in the software service market.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations


1. Joe on August 25, 2005 2:51 PM writes...

Interesting that the court reasoned copyright was enacted for the interests of the copyright holders and that it must be balanced with the public's interest in using the information. This seems contrary to the stated purpose of advancing the arts and sciences via giving an exclusive interest to the copyright holder. They are similar statements, but note that the "primary" purpose is swapped: the owner's interests in one and the public's in the other.

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2. another Joe on August 26, 2005 9:01 AM writes...

So this removes DMCA protection from region locking measures!

It is now legal to have a commercial service chipping X-Boxes so they play software bought elsewhere (or even software by authors who haven't paid the Microsoft tax) and converting DVD players to multi region.

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