EFF Uses YouTube DL Takedown to Renew Calls to End Anti-Circumvention Laws

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is renewing calls to fight anti-circumvention laws. This after the YouTube DL takedown.

Late last month, we brought you news that the Recording Industry association of America (RIAA) issued a DMCA takedown against online backup tool, YouTube DL. YouTube DL is a tool that allows users to backup video content on streaming sites.

As we reported, the takedown hinges on anti-circumvention laws in the US. The rather roundabout argument is that YouTube has content protection on their video’s. Presumably, you can’t directly download the videos is what constitutes as protection. With YouTube DL, you are able to “circumvent” this problem. Therefore, YouTube DL infringes on the RIAAs content because you can circumvent a copy protection.

While very shaky grounds, anti-circumvention laws allows for this kind of takedown to take place. It’s precisely cases like this why we’ve brought up anti-circumvention laws in the past – whether discussing international trade agreements or proposed copyright laws in different countries. It’s these very laws that have been responsible for stymieing and hamstringing innovation. If it theoretically can be used in some way shape or form to break a “copy protection”, then it is automatically illegal.

Now, hthe Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is using the YouTube DL case to renew calls to fight anticircumvention laws. From the EFF:

DMCA 1201 is incredibly broad, apparently allowing rightsholders to legally harass any “trafficker” in code that lets users re-take control of their devices from DRM locks.

EFF has been warning against the consequences of this approach even before the DMCA was passed in 1998. That’s because DMCA 1201 is not the first time the U.S. considered adopting such language. DMCA 1201 is the enactment of the provisions of an earlier global treaty: the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s Copyright Treaty of 1996. That treaty’s existence is itself largely due to American rightsholders’ abortive attempt to pass a similar anti-circumvention proposal devised in the Clinton administration’s notoriously pro-industry 1995 White Paper on Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure.

DMCA 1201 has been loaded with terrible implications for innovation and free expression since the day it was passed. For many years, EFF documented these issues in our “Unintended Consequences” series; we continue to organize and lobby for temporary exemptions to its provisions for the purposes of cellphone unlocking, restoring vintage videogames and similar fair uses, as well as file and defend lawsuits in the United States to try and mitigate its damage. We look forward to the day when it is no longer part of U.S. law.

But due to the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions infest much of the world’s jurisdictions too, including the European Union via the Information Society Directive 2001/29/EC, which stipulates:

Member States shall provide adequate legal protection against the manufacture, import, distribution, sale, rental, advertisement for sale or rental, or possession for commercial purposes of devices, products or components or the provision of services which:

(a) are promoted, advertised or marketed for the purpose of circumvention of, or

(b) have only a limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent, or

(c) are primarily designed, produced, adapted or performed for the purpose of enabling or facilitating the circumvention of, any effective technological measures.

The EU directive already mirrors the worst of U.S. law in that it apparently prohibits the possession and distribution of anti-circumvention components (the language that led to ridiculous spectacle in the 2000s of legal threats against anyone who posted the DeCSS algorithm online.) Transpositions into domestic European law, and their domestic interpretations, have had the opportunity to make it even worse.

EFF has a long-term plan to beat the anti-circumvention laws, wherever they are, which we call Apollo 1201. But we need help from a global movement to finally revoke this ongoing attack on the world’s creators, innovators, and consumers. You can do your part by examining and understanding your own country’s anti-circumvention provision–and prepare and organize for the moment when your local RIAA comes knocking on your door.

On this front, it definitely looks like major corporate interests have already managed to defeat innovation on this front from the legal perspective. Having stamped out potential innovation in a large number of countries via these laws, it may not appear that there is much more that can be done now that the damage has set in. Still, it’s at least heartening to know that the fight to bring innovation back isn’t dead by any means. At this point, the efforts is to carve out exceptions so that technological innovation gain start gaining inches back.

An important aspect in all of this is to at least highlight how corporate interests are still utilizing anti-circumvention laws to this day to wreak havoc on developers and innovators all over the world. Just because innovation took heavy losses in years past doesn’t mean that everything about this has been forgotten. Far from it, actually.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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