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 Chilling Effects Clearinghouse > Anticircumvention (DMCA) > Notices > Nintendo of America: Notice to Zophar's Domain (NoticeID 154, http://chillingeffects.org/N/154) Printer-friendly version

Nintendo of America: Notice to Zophar's Domain

February 19, 2002

 

Sender Information:
Nintendo of America, Inc.
Sent by: None
None
Redmond, WA, 98052, US

Recipient Information:
Sam Michaels
Zophar's Domain
PA, 17112, USA


Sent via: email
Re: Nintendo of America: Notice of Intellectual Property

Dear [private]:


Nintendo of America Inc. (NOA) is providing this letter of notification pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, USC 17

 
FAQ: Questions and Answers

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Question: What are the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions?

Answer: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is the latest amendment to copyright law, which introduced a new category of copyright violations that prohibit the "circumvention" of technical locks and controls on the use of digital content and products. These anti-circumvention provisions put the force of law behind any technological systems used by copyright owners to control access to and copying of their digital works.

The DMCA contains four main provisions:

  1. a prohibition on circumventing access controls [1201(a)(1)(A)];
  2. an access control circumvention device ban (sometimes called the "trafficking" ban) [1201(a)(2)];
  3. a copyright protection circumvention device ban [1201(b)]; and,
  4. a prohibition on the removal of copyright management information (CMI) [1202(b)].

The first provision prohibits the act of circumventing technological protection systems, the second and third ban technological devices that facilitate the circumvention of access control or copy controls, and the fourth prohibits individuals from removing information about access and use devices and rules. The first three provisions are also distinguishable in that the first two provisions focus on technological protection systems that provide access control to the copyright owner, while the third provision prohibits circumvention of technological protections against unauthorized duplication and other potentially copyright infringing activities.


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Question: What does it mean to distribute circumvention tools?

Answer: Section 1201(a)(2) defines distribution as the "manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic" of circumvention tools. This definition can be interpreted extremely broadly as evident in the court's analysis in the DVD encryption Universal v. Corley case. In its decision, the court considered not only making the source code of a program for free a type of distribution, but also found that merely linking to a web site containing illegal tools can constitute "trafficking."


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Question: What does circumvention mean?

Answer: Circumvention, according to Section 1201(a)(3)(A), means "to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner." While the full scope of activities and practices that would fall under this definition has not yet been examined by the courts, any act of undoing a "lock" or "block" in a digital system may well be considered circumvention.


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Question: Can a system be legally circumvented?

Answer: It depends. In general, the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA reserve broad authority to copyright holders to determine who can circumvent their systems.

For example, while the DMCA contains an encryption research exemption, to come under the exception, a researcher must lawfully obtain the work and request the permission from the copyright holder to engage in circumvention in order to be exempted [1201(g)(2)(C)]. In addition, under the DMCA only individuals who are studying, trained, or employed in encryption research are likely to be considered legitimate researchers under the law [1201(g)(3)(B)]. Finally, an encryption researcher is required to immediately notify the creator of the protection system when she breaks it. [1201(g)(3)(C)] The security testing exemption is even more restrictive in its rules about obtaining authorization from the copyright owner. It requires individuals engaged in security testing to not only request, but must actually obtain the authorization. [1201(j)(1)] On the other hand, the exemption relating to law enforcement, intelligence, and other government purposes have no such requirements to notify copyright owners of their activities. [1201(e)]

One important limitation to the control given to copyright owners is that manufacturers and developers of consumers electronics, telecommunications, or computing products are not required to design their products to respond to the digital protection systems implemented by copyright owners in their works. [1201(c)(3)] In this limitation, the DMCA anticipated the excessive control that copyright owners might exercise over the products used to play their works in addition to the works themselves.


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Question: What rights are protected by copyright law?

Answer: The purpose of copyright law is to encourage creative work by granting a temporary monopoly in an author's original creations. This monopoly takes the form of six rights in areas where the author retains exclusive control. These rights are:

(1) the right of reproduction (i.e., copying),
(2) the right to create derivative works,
(3) the right to distribution,
(4) the right to performance,
(5) the right to display, and
(6) the digital transmission performance right.

The law of copyright protects the first two rights in both private and public contexts, whereas an author can only restrict the last four rights in the public sphere. Claims of infringement must show that the defendant exercised one of these rights. For example, if I create unauthorized videotape copies of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and distribute them to strangers on the street, then I have infringed both the copyright holder's rights of reproduction and distribution. If I merely re-enact The Wrath of Khan for my family in my home, then I have not infringed on the copyright. Names, ideas and facts are not protected by copyright.

Trademark law, in contrast, is designed to protect consumers from confusion as to the source of goods (as well as to protect the trademark owner's market). To this end, the law gives the owner of a registered trademark the right to use the mark in commerce without confusion. If someone introduces a trademark into the market that is likely to cause confusion, then the newer mark infringes on the older one. The laws of trademark infringement and dilution protect against this likelihood of confusion. Trademark protects names, images and short phrases.

Infringement protects against confusion about the origin of goods. The plaintiff in an infringement suit must show that defendant's use of the mark is likely to cause such a confusion. For instance, if I were an unscrupulous manufacturer, I might attempt to capitalize on the fame of Star Trek by creating a line of 'Spock Activewear.' If consumers could reasonably believe that my activewear was produced or endorsed by the owners of the Spock trademark, then I would be liable for infringement.

The law of trademark dilution protects against confusion concerning the character of a registered trademark. Suppose I created a semi-automatic assault rifle and marketed it as 'The Lt. Uhura 5000.' Even if consumers could not reasonably believe that the Star Trek trademark holders produced this firearm, the trademark holders could claim that my use of their mark harmed the family-oriented character of their mark. I would be liable for dilution.


[back to notice text]


Question: What does it mean to distribute circumvention tools?

Answer: Section 1201(a)(2) defines distribution as the "manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic" of circumvention tools. This definition can be interpreted extremely broadly as evident in the court's analysis in the DVD encryption Universal v. Corley case. In its decision, the court considered not only making the source code of a program for free a type of distribution, but also found that merely linking to a web site containing illegal tools can constitute "trafficking."


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Question: What are the civil penalties for a DMCA 1201 violation?

Answer: Civil cases are brought in federal district court where the court has broad authority to grant injunctive and monetary relief. Injunctions can be granted forbidding the distribution of the tools or products involved in the violation. The court may also order the destruction of the tools or products involved in the violation. The court can also award actual damages, profits gained through infringement, and attorney's fees. If an individual held in violation of the DMCA commits another such violation within the three-year period following the judgment, the court may increase the damages up to triple the amount that would otherwise be awarded.

In circumstances involving innocent violators, it is up to the courts to decide whether to reduce damages. But, in the case of nonprofit library, archives or educational institutions, the court must remit damages if it finds that the institution did not know of the violation.


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Question: What are the criminal penalties for a DMCA 1201 violation?

Answer: If the circumvention violations are determined to be willful and for commercial or private financial gain, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both. Criminal penalties are not applicable to nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational institutions.


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Question: Is reverse engineering legal?

Answer: Reverse engineering has long been held a legitimate form of discovery in both legislation and court opinions. The Supreme Court has confronted the issue of reverse engineering in mechanical technologies several times, upholding it under the principles that it is an important method of the dissemination of ideas and that it encourages innovation in the marketplace. The Supreme Court addressed the first principle in Kewanee Oil v. Bicron, a case involving trade secret protection over synthetic crystals manufacturing by defining reverse engineering as "a fair and honest means of starting with the known product and working backwards to divine the process which aided in its development or manufacture." [416 U.S. 470, 476 (1974)] The principle that reverse engineering encourages innovation was articulated in Bonito Boats. v. Thunder Craft, a case involving laws forbidding the reverse engineering of the molding process of boat hulls, when the Supreme Court said that "the competitive reality of reverse engineering may act as a spur to the inventor, creating an incentive to develop inventions that meet the rigorous requirements of patentability." [489 U.S. 141 160 (1989)]

Congress has also passed legislation in a number of different technological areas specifically permitting reverse engineering. The Semiconductor Chip Protection Act (SCPA) explicitly includes a reverse engineering privilege allowing semiconductor chip designers to study the layout of circuits and incorporate that knowledge into the design of new chips. The Competition of Contracting Act of 1984 allows the defense industry to inspect and analyze the spare parts it purchases in order to facilitate competition in government contracts.

The law regarding reverse engineering in the computer software and hardware context is less clear, but has been described by many courts as an important part of software development. The reverse engineering of software faces considerable legal challenges due to the enforcement of anti reverse engineering licensing provisions and the prohibition on the circumvention of technologies embedded within protection measures. By enforcing these legal mechanisms, courts are not required to examine the reverse engineering restrictions under federal intellectual property law. In circumstances involving anti reverse engineering licensing provisions, courts must first determine whether the enforcement of these provisions within contracts are preempted by federal intellectual property law considerations. Under DMCA claims involving the circumvention of technological protection systems, courts analyze whether or not the reverse engineering in question qualifies under any of the exemptions contained within the law.


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