The Digital Millenium Copyright Act in .NET

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been getting much publicity these past few years. As funny as it may sound, the basic purpose of the DMCA, which was enacted in 1998, is to protect the copyright protection technologies. The idea is that the copyright protection technologies in themselves are vulnerable and that legislative action must be taken to protect them. Seriously, the basic idea behind the DMCA is that it legally protects copyright protection systems from circumvention. Of course, circumvention of copyright protection systems almost always involves reversing, and that is why the DMCA is the closest thing you ll find in the United States Code to an antireverse-engineering law. However, it should be stressed that the DMCA only applies to copyright protection systems, which are essentially DRM technologies. The DMCA does not apply to any other type of copyrighted software, so many reversing applications are not affected by it at all. Still, what exactly is prohibited under the DMCA
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Circumvention of copyright protection systems: This means that a person may not defeat a Digital Rights Management technology, even for personal use. There are several exceptions where this is permitted, which are discussed later in this section.
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The development of circumvention technologies: This means that a person may not develop or make available any product or technology that circumvents a DRM technology. In case you re wondering: Yes, the average keygen program qualifies. In fact, a person developing a keygen violates this section, and a person using a keygen violates the previous one. In case you re truly a law-abiding citizen, a keygen is a program that generates a serial number on the fly for programs that request a serial number during installation. Keygens are (illegally) available online for practically any program that requires a serial number. Copy protections and keygens are discussed in depth in Part III of this book.
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Luckily, the DMCA makes several exceptions in which circumvention is allowed. Here is a brief examination of each of the exemptions provided in the DMCA:
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Interoperability: reversing and circumventing DRM technologies may be allowed in circumstances where such work is needed in order to interoperate with the software product in question. For example, if a program was encrypted for the purpose of copy protecting it, a software developer may decrypt the program in question if that s the only way to interoperate with it. Encryption research: There is a highly restricted clause in the DMCA that allows researchers of encryption technologies to circumvent copyright protection technologies in encryption products. Circumvention is only allowed if the protection technologies interfere with the evaluation of the encryption technology. Security testing: A person may reverse and circumvent copyright protection software for the purpose of evaluating or improving the security of a computer system. Educational institutions and public libraries: These institutions may circumvent a copyright protection technology in order to evaluate the copyrighted work prior to purchasing it. Government investigation: Not surprisingly, government agencies conducting investigations are not affected by the DMCA. Regulation: DRM Technologies may be circumvented for the purpose of regulating the materials accessible to minors on the Internet. So, a theoretical product that allows unmonitored and uncontrolled Internet browsing may be reversed for the purpose of controlling a minor s use of the Internet. Protection of privacy: Products that collect or transmit personal information may be reversed and any protection technologies they include may be circumvented.
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DMCA Cases
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The DMCA is relatively new as far as laws go, and therefore it hasn t really been used extensively so far. There have been several high-profile cases in which the DMCA was invoked. Let s take a brief look at two of those cases. Felten vs. RIAA: In September, 2000, the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) announced the Hack SDMI challenge. The Hack SDMI challenge was a call for security researchers to test the level of security offered by SDMI, a digital rights management system designed to protect audio recordings (based on watermarks). Princeton university professor Edward Felten and his research team found weaknesses in the system and wrote a paper describing their findings [Craver]. The original Hack SDMI challenge offered a $10,000 reward in return for giving up ownership of the information gathered. Felten s team chose to forego this reward and retain ownership of the information in order to allow them to publish their findings. At this point, they received legal threats from SDMI and the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) claiming liability under the DMCA. The team decided to withdraw their paper from the original conference to which it was submitted, but were eventually able to publish it at the USENIX Security Symposium. The sad thing about this whole story is that it is a classic case where the DMCA could actually reduce the level of security provided by the devices it was created to protect. Instead of allowing security researchers to publish their findings and force the developers of the security device to improve their product, the DMCA can be used for stifling the very process of open security research that has been historically proven to create the most robust security systems. US vs. Sklyarov: In July, 2001, Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer, was arrested by the FBI for what was claimed to be a violation of the DMCA. Sklyarov had reverse engineered the Adobe eBook file format while working for ElcomSoft, a software company from Moscow. The information gathered using reverse engineering was used in the creation of a program called Advanced eBook Processor that could decrypt such eBook files (these are essentially encrypted .pdf files that are used for distributing copyrighted materials such as books) so that they become readable by any PDF reader. This decryption meant that any original restriction on viewing, printing, or copying eBook files was bypassed, and that the files became unprotected. Adobe filed a complaint stating that the creation and distribution of the Advanced eBook Processor is a violation of the DMCA, and both Sklyarov and ElcomSoft were sued by the government. Eventually both Sklyarov and ElcomSoft were acquitted because the jury became convinced that the developers were originally unaware of the illegal nature of their actions.
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