‘Catalog of Missing Devices’ Highlights Punitive Copyright Law

(CN) – A bevy of products beneficial to consumers would be in circulation if not for one obscure copyright law companies use to protect their profits at the expense of their customers, a report issued this week claims.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation compiled “The Catalog of Missing Devices” to demonstrate which products might already be in consumers’ homes if not for Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

That section covers digital rights management, or DRM, and applies to copyright surrounding software and other digital products.

“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,” EFF Special Adviser Cory Doctorow said in a statement. “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 piece of “design fiction,” as the EFF calls it, includes speaking toys with software that parents could routinely update to improve upon the canned and repetitive statements that currently comprise toy conversation.

The report floats a meme-creating DVR, capable of recording television and movies to immediately transform brief snippets into share-worthy memes, as a potential product. The report also cites ad-free television and YouTube.

According to the EFF, these products and more are restricted as companies use copyright law to stifle innovation, protect existing corporate interests and prevent consumers from circumventing the law.

The DMCA 1201 is what allows certain auto manufactures to require the purchase of an expensive tool for a consumer to fix his or her own car, the report says

“Thanks to DMCA 1201, manufacturers of products as varied as phones, game consoles, insulin pumps, and cars have locked down the software in those products — all in order to control you and the gadgets you own,” the report says.

The EFF is a digital rights organization that advocates for internet civil liberties.

Long antagonistic to patent abuses that harm consumers, the group sued the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2016, claiming the copyright law’s provisions ran contrary to the First Amendment.

The case is still pending in federal court.

The plaintiff in the case is Dr. Matthew Green, a cryptographer and computer security researcher at John Hopkins University.

His research on communication security, financial transaction devices and medical hardware is vital but limited by the DMCA 1201 and its punitive provisions, the lawsuit says.

Violating the copyright law carries financial penalties that could cost millions and a maximum of five years in prison.

EFF acknowledges the original intent of the law was to protect intellectual property and prevent illegal copying, but said companies have quickly learned how to exploit provisions of the law to thwart competition.

“We need to fix the laws that choke off competition and innovation with no corresponding benefit,” EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry said in a statement.

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