Report on Course: The Impact
of Public Policy on Computer Graphics
Ellis and Barbara Simons
By Ben Wyrick
It used to be hard to copy things. During the Dark Ages, Monks laboriously
duplicated texts word for word, by hand. Back then there was little
need for licensing intellectual property. Today, thanks to digital
technology, copying material is much easier, and as a consequence
we have copyrights, licenses, scrambled signals, cryptography, public
policy laws, and lawyers.
A course titled
"The Impact of Public Policy on Computer Graphics," delivered by
Robert Ellis and Barbara Simons delved into the issues surrounding
intellectual property and the consumer's right to exercise control
over software and media he or she has purchased. Ellis is the SIGGRAPH
Public Policy Program Chair, and Simons is ACM Past President and
U.S. Public Policy Committee Co-Chair.
It is well known
that creators have rights. Musicians, artists, software developers,
and other creators have certain rights over their work. Among other
things, a copyright prevents unlawful duplication of the holder's
work. But copyrights, unlike diamonds, are not forever.
provides for a limited term on copyrighted material. Once a copyright
runs out, the photograph, book, or other media enters the public
domain. According to Ellis and Simons, manufacturers of DVDs and
other permanently encrypted media have forgotten about the limited
nature of a copyright.
It is important to remember that consumers also have rights. The
purchaser of a music CD or software package has certain limited
rights to the use of that product. The right of "first sale" allows
the consumer to give away media he or she has purchased.
Perhaps more important
than first sale is the right of "fair use." Fair use endows the
consumer with several rights, including the right to publish a software
review and the right to distribute copies in a classroom setting
for teaching and research purposes.
New public policy
legislation abridges the rights of first sale and fair use. Legislation
like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Uniform
Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) place unfair restrictions
on consumers according to Ellis and Simons. The presenters also
note that the United States has some of the strictest laws regarding
intellectual property and that other countries are being pressured
by the U.S. to adhere to those laws.
DVDs are a good
example of how basic consumer rights have been abridged. Due to
the Content Scrambling System (CSS) encryption on DVDs, someone
who owns one cannot make a copy for his or her private use. Anyone
who attempts to circumvent the encryption is in violation of the
DMCA and thus a lawbreaker. Another example: a professor teaching
a class on cryptography instructs students on reverse engineering,
a common occurrence in computer science classes across the country.
Under DMCA this action is highly questionable.
DMCA AND UCITA
The DMCA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1998. The ACM
opposes the anti-circumvention provisions of the law, claiming they
criminalize legitimate research and impede progress. For example,
how does one prove an encryption scheme weak? Hack it. How does
one make it stronger? Bolster the scheme based on the knowledge
gained from the hack. That's illegal now.
UCITA has only
been adopted by Virginia and Maryland. Each state has adopted its
own version of the law and so UCITA is uniform in name only. In
fact, Iowa has passed an anti-UCITA bill.
According to the
ACM, UCITA will encourage sloppy work from software companies because
it absolves them from product defect liability--even if the manufacturer
had prior knowledge of the defect. It prohibits reverse engineering
which is one of the ways defective software is fixed. UCITA forbids
the publication of benchmarks, which denies consumers valuable information
regarding a software product.
by UCITA provisions are forced to accept the non-negotiable terms
hidden inside "shrink-wrap" licenses. Under UCITA, it is conceivable
that a user found in violation of the license would be subject to
a remote inactivation of the software, carried out through the user's
Internet connection. For these reasons, UCITA has been facetiously
Somewhere along the line, someone got tired of not being able to
copy purchased DVDs. Or perhaps that anonymous someone was just
looking for the intellectual challenge of breaking the Content Scrambling
System (CSS) which protects DVDs from being duplicated. In January
of 2000, code for breaking CSS was published on the Internet, mostly
by anonymous individuals. The code, called DeCSS, spread throughout
the Internet and prompted officials to act.
a 16-year-old Norwegian, was arrested on Jan. 25, 2000, for posting
DeCSS on his website. A legal battle ensued and separate court cases
were brought against others, such as Eric Corley, publisher of the
hacker netzine 2600.com, which published DeCSS on their site and
later, links to sites with DeCSS code. Reactions against CSS, DMCA,
and UCITA have prompted a rash of civil disobedience among the electronic
In addition to Johansen and Corley, two other names come up when
the subject of circumvention is mentioned: Dmitry Sklyarov and Edward
Sklyarov, a lead
programmer for a Russian software company, was arrested in July
for publishing a hack to Adobe's eBook encryption. Sklyarov's company,
Elcom, manufacturers a $100 eBook decoder which makes it possible
to copy eBooks and also extends their usability. Sklyarov was in
the United States for the annual Defcon hacker convention, where
he gave a talk on eBook security. Currently released on bond, Sklyarov
is the first person to be prosecuted under the criminal provisions
of DMCA. Several civil cases have been levied, most notably that
of Edward Felten.
Edward Felten led a research team in a contest to circumvent a digital
watermarking scheme created by Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI),
the security arm of the music recording industry. Felten's team
was successful and prepared to publish its findings at the International
Information Hiding Workshop Conference in April. Prior to the conference
Felten received a letter from the Recording Industry Association
of America (RIAA) and SDMI which threatened a lawsuit if the paper
was published. At the last moment Felten bowed out and did not present
his team's paper at the conference. In June the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, an electronic age free speech advocacy group, asked
a federal court to allow Felten to present his paper at a different
conference, the USENIX Security Conference, on Aug. 15.
WHAT DMCA MEANS
Computer scientists like Felten routinely study security issues
and present their findings at conferences. DMCA threatens to curtail
the types of research which can be presented at professional conferences.
Could an ACM presenter be taken to court for publishing a paper
on reverse engineering? International scientists have informed the
ACM that they won't come to America while DMCA is still in place
(Sklyarov's bail prohibits him from returning home to Russia). Hence
the ACM's position that anti-circumvention provisions threaten security,
academic research, and fair use.
THE BIG PICTURE
According to the Constitution, the core purpose of copyright is
to "promote the progress of science and useful arts." Does legislation
like DMCA violate the intent of copyright? Ellis and Simons argue
that progress is not being made when papers are blocked and computer
scientists are not allowed to research circumvention methods.
A last thought
worth considering: the ACM has argued that code is an expressive
language and thus falls under First Amendment protection.
CALL TO ACTION
Ellis and Simons gave several guidelines for individuals interested
in joining the fight against DMCA and UCITA. It was mentioned that
policymakers are influenced by contributions and hardcopy letters
(not email) from constituents. Letters to the editor are most effective
when submitted in response to a story previously covered by the
paper. Several links to anti-DMCA organizations are included at
the end of this story.
As a reporter covering issues like DeCSS, is it legal under DMCA
for me to provide readers with resources which might allow encryption
ACM U.S. Policy Committee: www.acm.org/usacm
Electronic Frontier Foundation: www.eff.org
Recording Industry Association of America: www.riaa.org
Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions: www.4cite.org
UCITA On-Line: www.ucitaonline.com
2600.com netzine: www.2600.com
For more information
see the S2001 site: