EFF Sues Feds Over 'Unconstitutional' Copyright Law


The Electronic Frontier Foundation this week sued the government on behalf of technology creators and researchers in a bid to overturn parts of US copyright law it deems unconstitutional.

Two provisions in Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) restrict user access to purchased content, which violates the First Amendment, according to the EFF.

Section 1201 prohibits people from circumventing software that restricts access to legally purchased materials like films, songs, and the computer code controlling vehicles, devices, and applications.

"The First Amendment preserves our right to transform creative works to express a new message, and to research and talk about the computer code that controls so much of our world," EFF staff attorney Kit Walsh said in a statement. "Section 1201 threatens ordinary people with financial ruin or even a prison sentence for exercising those freedoms, and that cannot stand."

The maximum penalty for violating DMCA laws is a $500,000 fine or five-year jail sentence, according to BBC News.

The EFF represents Johns Hopkins University computer security researcher Matthew Green, as well as computer scientist and inventor Andrew "bunnie" Huang and his company Alphamax LLC.

"Whereas we once readily expressed feelings and new ideas through remixes and hardware modifications, now we must first pause and ask: does this violate Section 1201?" Huang wrote in a blog post.

"I am but one instrument in a large orchestra performing the symphony for freedom," he continued. "But I hope my small part can remind us that once upon a time, there was a world free of such artificial barriers, and that creativity and expression go hand-in-hand with the ability to share without fear."

Introduced in 1998, the DMCA was created to address copyright for media in the digital age. But Section 1201, designed to stop people ripping DVDs and sharing the content online, has residual effects. As BBC News points out, it stops people from modifying a DVD player to play discs from different regions or deconstructing a medical device's software to search for vulnerabilities.

"If future generations are going to be able to understand and control their own machines, and to participate fully in making rather than simply consuming culture, Section 1201 has to go," Walsh said.

The EFF has been fighting this battle for several years, and has been among those pushing for Congress to revamp the DMCA.

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