A while back a posting on Slashdot had this signature:
Diese ist durch das deutsche Urheberrecht geschützt. Die Übersetzung ins Englische verstösst gegen den DMCA.
At the risk of violating the DMCA, here's the translation for those who don't read German:
This is protected by German copyright. Translation into English violates the DMCA.
The DMCA is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act a law passed in the United States in 1998 at the behest of the entertainment industry in hopes of stopping unauthorized copying of copyrighted materials, such as music CDs. They like to call this "piracy", as if unauthorized copying were the moral equivalent of kidnapping, rape and murder. Some people have no sense of proportion. One reason that many people object to the DMCA is that it has the effect of allowing companies to prevent forms of copying considered legal under US copyright law under the "fair use" doctrine since it prevents any copying at all.
Section 1201(a)(1) prohibits the act of circumventing a technological measure used by copyright owners to control access to their work. Sections 1201(a)(2) and 1201(b) outlaw the manufacture, sale, distribution or trafficking of tools and technologies that enable circumvention.
Among the technological measures that the DMCA prohibits the circumvention of is encryption. What the above signature refers to is the fact that presenting something in an unfamiliar language may be considered a form of encryption and therefore a "technological measure". The story of the Navajo Codetalkers during the Second World War makes the equivalence clear. Therefore, translation may be considered a violation of the DMCA.
Putting something into German isn't a very good way of concealing it since so many people understand German. But that doesn't change the legal situation. The DMCA doesn't care whether the copyright owner has done a good job of protecting its material; circumventing the protection is illegal even if it is easy.
In October, as reported in The Register, SunComm Technologies threatened to sue Princeton computer science graduate student Alex Halderman under the DMCA over his paper Analysis of the MediaMax CD3 Copy-Prevention System. In SunComm's system, when a music "CD" is inserted into a computer's CD drive, a small program is installed that controls access to the CD and prevents copying. This relies on the "autorun" facility, whereby when a CD is inserted the computer automatically checks to see if it contains a program and runs it if it does. (The reason for the scare quotes around CD is that the term CD is a trademark of the Philips company. Since "CD"s with MediaMax CD3 copy protection do not conform to the specification, calling them CDs violates Philips' trademark.) Halderman pointed out that this program can easily be removed, and that "autorun" is disabled if the user presses the Shift key while the CD is loading. It is also possible to disable "autorun" from the Control Panel; any user with a concern for security will have done this. In any case, this approach only works if the computer is running Microsoft Windows; it has no effect on people like me who don't.
SunComm eventually backed down (BBC News report); they probably realized that continuing public notice that their product was laughably ineffective would not be good for business. The point is that security measures don't have to be good for it to violate the DMCA to circumvent them.
The Slashdot poster may have been joking, but maybe not. The issue is a serious one. Is it now a federal crime in the United States to produce machine translation software, dictionaries, grammars, and other aids to translation? Reasonable people may think that this isn't what the DMCA was intended to prohibit, but you can't count on either greedy corporations or power-seeking government officials to be reasonable. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has lots of information about the DMCA and the problems with it here.Posted by Bill Poser at February 29, 2004 01:14 PM