Skip to main content

Catalog of Missing Devices Illustrates Gadgets that Could and Should Exist

Bad Copyright Law Prevents Innovators from Creating Cool New Tools
February 1, 2018

Catalog of Missing Devices Illustrates Gadgets that Could and Should Exist

Catalog of Missing Devices banner

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched its “Catalog of Missing Devices”—a project that illustrates the gadgets that could and should exist, if not for bad copyright laws that prevent innovators from creating the cool new tools that could enrich our lives.

“The law that is supposed to restrict copying has instead been misused to crack down on competition, strangling a future’s worth of gadgets in their cradles,” said EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow. “But it’s hard to notice what isn’t there. We’re aiming to fix that with this Catalog of Missing Devices. It’s a collection of tools, services, and products that could have been, and should have been, but never were.”

The damage comes from Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA 1201), which covers digital rights management software (DRM). DRM was designed to block software counterfeiting and other illegal copying, and Section 1201 bans DRM circumvention. However, businesses quickly learned that by employing DRM they could thwart honest competitors from creating inter-operative tools.

Right now, that means you could be breaking the law just by doing something as simple as repairing your car on your own, without the vehicle-maker’s pricey tool. Other examples include rightsholders forcing you to buy additional copies of movies you want to watch on your phone—instead of allowing you to rip the DVD you already own and are entitled to watch—or manufacturers blocking your printer from using anything but their official ink cartridges.

But that’s just the beginning of what consumers are missing. The Catalog of Missing Devices imagines things like music software that tailors your listening to what you are reading on your audiobook, or a gadget that lets parents reprogram talking toys to replace canned, meaningless messaging.

“Computers aren’t just on our desktops or in our pockets—they are everywhere, and so is the software that runs them,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “We need to fix the laws that choke off competition and innovation with no corresponding benefit.”

The Catalog of Missing Devices is part of EFF’s Apollo 1201 project, dedicated to eradicating all DRM from the world. A key step is eliminating laws like DMCA 1201, as well as the international versions of this legislation that the U.S. has convinced its trading partners to adopt.

For the Catalog of Missing Devices:

Related Issues

JavaScript license information