August 31, 2004 | By Wendy Seltzer

DMCA Doesn't Lock Garage Doors, Fed. Circuit Affirms

The Federal Circuit today affirmed [PDF] that the DMCA does not "divest the public of the property rights that the Copyright Act has long granted to the public." The court ruled that that Skylink's universal garage door opener does not violate the DMCA Section 1201(a)(2). (See EFF's Chamberlain v. Skylink archive.)

Chamberlain had claimed that Skylink's sale of interoperable garage door remotes violated the DMCA ban on trafficking in circumvention devices. The court rightly rejected that argument, saying that DMCA prohibitions must be tied to copyright rights to fit the balance copyright embodies.

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.

With its reading of fair use, "authorization," and the dangers of copyright misuse by those who would block interoperability, the Fed. Circuit adds some important nuance to the DMCA. "[T]he DMCA emphatically did not 'fundamentally alter' the legal landscape governing the reasonable expectations of consumers or competitors."


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