Tinkering is now a felony

This just in. Three guys hack Xboxes and upgrade the hard drives, then sell the Xboxes filled up with games (up to 80) at a premium, which they presumably pocketed.

One of the charges – copyright infringement -the placing of pirated games on the HD. This is as it should be, and if they have deprived game publishers of a sale by copying games, they should make restitution.

The other charge – violation of the DMCA – is the one I take exception to. They are facing a felony charge for hacking Xboxes.

Apparently one of the provisions of this odious law is an attempt to make reverse-engineering illegal.

I have a problem with this.

  • Reverse-engineering is a legitimate activity, without which technological progress is almost impossible.
  • One of the reasons that the IBM PC standard became so popular was that a court ruled it legal to reverse-engineer the BIOS as part of creating legal alternatives, thus opening the way for “clones”.
  • It is perfectly reasonable for me to reverse-engineer the chips in the engine-management system of my car in order to produce an improved version. However, if the manufacturer decides that the contents of that chip are copyright, that same act of reverse-engineering becomes a felony under the DMCA.
  • Given that corporations don’t like competition, the choice is an easy one – declare anything and everything to be copyrighted.

This is not a good thing.

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