A bill to fix America's most dangerous computer law

Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] and Rep. Jared Polis [D-CO] have introduced legislation in the US Senate and House to fix one of the worst computer laws on the US statute books: section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which forbids breaking digital locks, even for lawful purposes.

Under DMCA 1201, people and companies who make legal modifications to your property face civil and criminal jeopardy. For example, mechanics aren't allowed to break the digital locks on your car to diagnose its problems and repair it, meaning that it's a no-fooling crime to fix a car without a license from the manufacturer. The Internet of Things is being born with the inkject printer business model, where every part is locked so that it only works with approved components and consumables, from which monopoly rents can be extracted. Get ready for DRM on your dishes.

Wyden and Polis's Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation Act of 2015 goes a long way toward fixing this. It makes it unambiguously legal to break DRM for legal purposes — so you could make a PVR that records your Netflix videos, a universal ebook reader that merges your Kobo, Ibooks and Kindle collections, or a drop-in replacement for Samsung's speech-to-text module that didn't record what you say in your living room and send it to third parties.

Though this is sponsored by two Democrats, it should be a no-brainer for any self-respecting Republican. If you believe in markets and property rights, there is no government interference more odious than a law that literally criminalizes doing legal things with your property just because the company that originally manufactured it would like to imprison you in its walled garden.

And while the obvious beneficiaries of this law are competition and innovation, the real effect will be to improve security. Since a computerized appliance is a computer with spyware out of the box, keeping digital locks intact has meant criminalizing people who report bugs in the computers we rely on utterly. Once the I-Can't-Let-You-Do-That-Dave business model is dead, the legal rubric for keeping bugs secret will also die.

Even more important: this runs directly contrary to the NSA's plan to make it technically impossible and illegal to run software they can't spy on. That only works if you don't have the right to jailbreak your devices.

Bill Introduced To Fix Broken DMCA Anti-Circumvention Rules [Mike Masnick/Techdirt]