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Garage door makers battle over DMCA

Open and shut case

It says something when a Google search on 'DMCA' (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) produces the Anti-DMCA site at the top of the list.

"The DMCA is being used to silence researchers, computer scientists and critics. Corporations are using it against the public," the site states, before going into some detail about the infamous clause that it is a crime to "circumvent" copyright protection systems.

Since the law was passed by the US Congress in 1998, concerns been raised every year that it is being widely abused by companies to restrict competition, control markets and keep prices high. Many since 1998 have asked: "Just how far can this go?"

Well, now we know. The DMCA has finally found a buffer.

And it came in a court case at the end of August: Chamberlain Group vs Skylink Technologies. Never heard of them, you say? How could you not know about some of the finest purveyors of automatic garage-door openers?

Yes, Chamberlain Group launched a case against its rival Skylink under the DMCA because the company was making compatible garage door openers. So, you buy your garage door opening system from Chamberlain and lose the remote control. Fortunately, a control from Skylink will also open the door. Great, but in order to offer this service, says Chamberlain, Skylink circumvented access controls to a computer program in Chamberlain's opener.

Skylink claimed conversely that since the person that uses the control actualy owns the garage and the door opener, they have a lawful right to access the computer program however they want.

Yes, this is how bad things have got.

But there is a sort of silver lining to this legal cloud in the form of District Court judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. If a judge were to say "bollocks", that is what she would have come out with. Instead we have to settle with: "The homeowner has a legitimate expectation that he or she will be able to access the garage even if his transmitter is misplaced or malfunctions."

Can you imagine a world where every electronic item you possess would legally have to be accessed using a piece of equipment from a particular manufacturer? Well, you nearly had to.

There is some sanity in the world then. ®

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