Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] and Rep. Jared Polis [D-CO] have introduced legislation
in the US Senate and House to fix one of the worst computer laws on the
US statute books: section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,
which forbids breaking digital locks, even for lawful purposes.
Under DMCA 1201, people and companies who make legal modifications to
your property face civil and criminal jeopardy. For example, mechanics
aren’t allowed to break the digital locks on your car
to diagnose its problems and repair it, meaning that it’s a no-fooling
crime to fix a car without a license from the manufacturer. The Internet
of Things is being born with the inkject printer business model, where
every part is locked so that it only works with approved components and
consumables, from which monopoly rents can be extracted. Get ready for
DRM on your dishes.
Wyden and Polis’s Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation Act of 2015
goes a long way toward fixing this. It makes it unambiguously legal to
break DRM for legal purposes – so you could make a PVR that records
your Netflix videos, a universal ebook reader that merges your Kobo,
Ibooks and Kindle collections, or a drop-in replacement for Samsung’s
speech-to-text module that didn’t record what you say in your living
room and send it to third parties.
Though this is sponsored by two Democrats, it should be a no-brainer for
any self-respecting Republican. If you believe in markets and property
rights, there is no government interference more odious than a law that
literally criminalizes doing legal things with your property just
because the company that originally manufactured it would like to
imprison you in its walled garden.
And while the obvious beneficiaries of this law are competition and
innovation, the real effect will be to improve security. Since a
computerized appliance is a computer with spyware out of the box,
keeping digital locks intact has meant criminalizing people who report
bugs in the computers we rely on utterly. Once the
I-Can’t-Let-You-Do-That-Dave business model is dead, the legal rubric
for keeping bugs secret will also die.
Even more important: this runs directly contrary to the NSA’s plan
to make it technically impossible and illegal to run software they
can’t spy on. That only works if you don’t have the right to jailbreak