Good news on the copyright front! Judge Gajarsa, presiding over the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the district court summary judgment in Chamberlain v. Skylink. Ultimately, Chamberlain were trying to use copyright provisions of the DMCA to eliminate competition from Skylink, which makes spare garage door openers. Yes, those little remote controls you keep in your car to open your garage door. This case is a clear demonstration of the overreaching, and vague aspects of the DMCA, and how they could be harmful:
Chamberlain contends that Congress empowered manufacturers to prohibit consumers from using embedded software products in conjunction with competing products… unless the manufacturer provided consumers with explicit authorization. Chamberlain’s interpretation of the DMCA would therefore grant manufacturers broad exemptions from both the antitrust laws and the doctrine of copyright misuse.
If this judgment hadn’t gone the way of Skylink, items like universal remotes for your home electronics could quickly die out as companies copyright their devices. Gone would be the days of interoperability. The ruling is available (PDF) on the EFF Web site.
Some of my favorite parts of the ruling include (emphasis is mine):
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
Detailed coverage and commentary:
- Landmark Federal Circuit Decision in Skylink Case Creates DMCA Balancing Test – Ernest Miller
- Commentaries on the Federal Circuit’s Skylink Decision – Ernest Miller
- Skylink Wins! Fed. Cir. Shoots Down Chamberlain’s DMCA Claim – Jason Schultz