In what appears to be a complete reversal from previous rulings across the nation, a federal judge for the 5th Circuit Appeals Court in New Orleans has ruled that breaking digital rights management (DRM) is not considered a violation of the ban imposed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) if it was not done in the pursuit of copyright infringing.
General Electric did not infringe on a power supplier’s digital copyrights when it used protected software unlocked through a hacked security key, the 5th Circuit ruled. “Merely bypassing a technological protection that restricts a user from viewing or using a work is insufficient to trigger the (Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s) anti-circumvention provision,” Judge Garza wrote for the New Orleans-based court. “The DMCA prohibits only forms of access that would violate or impinge on the protections that the Copyright Act otherwise affords copyright owners.”
The ruling by Judge Garza is a step in the right direction for opponents of DRM and the anti-circumvention ban written in to the DMCA. While the ruling will surely be appealed, since there has now been a split decision between the 5th circuit and the others around the nation there is a strong chance a Supreme Court challenge will be heard in the future. Equally as important, now that there is a precedent set in the 5th circuit, it will be interesting to see the impact this ruling has on upcoming cases in the same and other circuits. Will other courts adhere to the same line of reasoning offered by Judge Garza?
Just as Sony Corp. of America vs. Universal City Studios – the Betamax Case – opened the doors for the very fair use we pride ourselves on today, we can only hope for similar good things from whatever case does end up weaving its way through the court system up to the Supremes. It is inevitable that one case will end up deciding the future of DRM just as the Betamax Case did in the past. It will happen, it is just a matter of time.