Intellectual property law is considered by some to be inherently counter to the free market: it creates rights of ownership in intangible things. However, now a group in the US is claiming that a key statute protecting copyright is also counter to freedom of expression.
A digital rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), is suing the United States government on behalf of two men, claiming that the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) violates an individual's freedom of expression, a Constitutional right, by regulating what one can do with something one has purchased.
The DMCA was introduced in 1998 to try to stem the growing breaches in copyright brought about by the digital age. File sharing and internet piracy were key triggers for its introduction, as it sought to move copyright law into the twenty first century. However, like many laws that were enacted earlier on in the digital age, it is now being argued that it impinges on modern rights in a way not contemplated at the time. The EFF is suing the US government on behalf of an inventor and a computer researcher, claiming that the DMCA does not allow them to perform their jobs by prohibiting an invention that allows people to use content they have paid for in innovative ways, and prohibiting the investigation of software vulnerabilities if this requires bypassing a copy protection system, respectively.
Exemptions are able to be granted to the DMCA by the Librarian of Congress, although these are temporary and may not be renewed. However, given that content providers are moving to protect their content even more strenuously, and there have been some very high profile clamp downs on illegal file sharing (for example, see the arrest last week of the founder of KickAss Torrents, Artem Vaulin), we consider that this case may have a long and arduous uphill journey to succeed in having a fundamental digital statute overturned.
The EFF said: "The law imposes a legal cloud over our rights to tinker with or repair the devices we own, to convert videos so that they can play on multiple platforms, remix a video, or conduct independent security research that would reveal dangerous security flaws in our computers, cars, and medical devices."