MRT Rattling Sabers at Microsoft, Apple and Others
Date: Sunday, May 13 @ 06:47:35 PDT
"DMCA" threat, candidate for Stupidest Legal Threat of The Decade. Until the next one anyway
This news article has taken a couple of days to think about, not because it isn't newsworthy, but more because of why it is newsworthy. A small company called Media Rights Technologies has sent "cease and desist" letters to Microsoft, Adobe, Real, and Apple, telling them to "stop selling products which infringe copyrights". MRT's argument is that because these companies allow for streaming of copyrighted works, and do not "adequately protect" such streaming from being ripped by third party stream rippers, then they are infringing somehow according to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
None of the companies involved have yet actually commented in any substantive manner. Presumably they haven't yet managed to pick themselves back up off the floor because they've spent the weekend rolling around laughing.
It is extremely important to note that this is not the start of a lawsuit. This is simply a set of vaguely threatening letters sent out, positing a rather novel legal theory and quite simply going after parties who declined to use a restrictive technology licensed to a third party. Apparently, it is now considered good business practice to threaten to sue anybody who you approach with your technology, who declines to incorporate it. How SCO- or RIAA-like, you may think. And, perhaps, you might be right, as there does appear to be some connection, or at least inspiration.
Media Rights Technologies is a strange little company that was spawned, Darth Vader style, from what seemed like a fairly innocuous dot Com enterprise, called the Museum of Musical Instruments. Apparently, faced with financial ruin at the hands of the RIAA's Death Star, the proprietors of the MOMI "turned to the Dark Side" and embarked on a four year software writing effort to perfect Digital Rights Management technologies to (purportedly) inhibit the ability of digital streaming to be ripped. The company maintains, apparently, that all use of stream ripping is illegal, everywhere in the world. It is of course no surprise whatsoever that the RIAA agrees with this position and endorses it.
One wonders who is really pulling the strings here, as this silliness comes out 2 days before the royalty rate rise for Internet stream broadcasters takes effect, and the Equality Act full court press is on. National Public Radio has come out heavily in favor of the Equality Act, not surprisingly since it owns what it is streaming, and still has to pay royalties for it. Likewise other content providers based outside the USA, including, most notably, the BBC, are now weighing in. So, the timing of tthis Sound and Fury campaign against the Big Vehicles of Content Infringement (in other words, the companies who provide 98% of all media players) are allegedly guilty of, ah, reproducing content that might not be digital rights managed. In other words, we should all be forced to use digital rights management, whether we want to or not. Indeed, Hank Risan starts sounding very Darl McBride-ish when he comes out with gems like:
“Together these four companies are responsible for 98 percent of the media players in the marketplace; CNN, NPR, Clear Channel, MySpace Yahoo and YouTube all use these infringing devices to distribute copyrighted works. We will hold the responsible parties accountable. The time of suing John Doe is over..."
As the nice folks at The Pirate Bay like to remind folks in the USA, the DMCA does not apply outside of the USA. Local laws apply. And the DMCA, although it has a lot of faults, and is in general a fairly poorly written and overbroad, technology-ignorant, and unbalanced law, it does protect ISPs and software providers from precisely these sorts of abuses. One of the more oft-misinterpreted clauses, and the most germane here, is the clause "to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner." So, um, what if the work is not scrambled in the first place? Apparently this is MRT's problem.
Fortunately, the DMCA doesn't actually penalize the maker of a media player for declining to use a particular DRM technology. In fact, you can write a media player and not use any particular DRM technology at all, and you won't be penalized by the law. You just won't play certain DRM-protected streams. The law comes into play if you write a player that attempts to decode a DRM-protected stream "without the authorization of the copyright holder", which is why there are license fees for these various DRM technologies, and supposedly copyright holders of the content agree to this stuff. None of which is the case here anyway.
So on it goes, we'll see in a few days what these guys think they are doing, and if they'll be laughed out of court, should they be serious in actually attempting to put forth these amazingly lame arguments.