International Copyright Circumvention
A little under three years ago, I heard about a case where a programmer had been arrested for a program that bypassed the copy protection mechanisms in one of Adobe's products1. People who have published information on or performed security circumvention in the past, even when done in a non-destructive manner have faced some legal problems. Specifically, it reminded by of the Kevin Mitnick case2 a few years earlier. In that case, a hacker was detained for two years, without bail, pending a trial, for gaining access to (but not damaging) several corporate networks. This new case however had an different twist - the security circumvention was done only to let people access documents that they already had a right to have, and it was done outside the United States. That raises issues regarding the United States having any right to do what they did, and even if they did have the right, was a wrong even committed.
This case is an example of something which a decade earlier would never have even been considered to be illegal. But, it falls into in of the heavily opposed section 12013 of the new Digital Millenium Copyright Act which tries to halt circumvention of anti-piracy measures. There was opposition before the law passed, but it became stronger when the DVD CAA tried to oppress distribution of the DeCSS - code that could bypass the encryption used on DVDs.4
(this was before the Abode case)
The intended purpose of DeCSS was to facilitate the development of an open-source DVD player. There were no DVD players for Linux, BeOS, FreeBSD, or any of the other operating systems that now have DVD players thanks to the DeCSS code. However, if the DVD can be decrypted and decompressed, it can also be re-compressed and re-distributed in another medium more practical for bootleggers, such as VideoCDs. (Which could also be done simply by playing the DVD in a normal DVD player, recording the output, just not producing as high quality results.) At the time no such re-encoding tools were available, and such behavior would be protected under traditional fair use for personal backups. Furthermore, the code was released anonymously by someone outside the United States. This lead to an initial attack using trade secret laws (The DMCA's anti-circumvention aren't protected by international treaties on copyright such as the Berne convention5) to indite international offenders hosting the decryption code. It is perhaps arguable, that since the offense was an incident purely on the Internet, and not really able to to tied to it's own country, perhaps no country is responsible or even capable of wielding authority. However at the moment, such a situations is perhaps too complicated to address, and certainly not something any current governing body would accept. Ultimately, attempts by the DVD CAA and MPAA to protect the CSS encryption were dropped.
The Adobe eBook case6 is similar. Again, a copy protection scheme was...