Förderverein Informationstechnik und Gesellschaft

FC: Will this column land me in federal prison under the DMCA?

------- Forwarded message follows ------- Date sent: Thu, 02 Jan 2003 10:52:18 -0800 To: From: Declan McCullagh <> Subject: FC: Will this column land me in federal prison under the DMCA? Send reply to:

Perspective: Will this land me in jail? By Declan McCullagh December 23, 2002, 4:00 AM PT

WASHINGTON--It's not every day that I fret about committing a string of federal felonies that could land me in prison until sometime in 2008.

But right now I'm wondering about whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) means that I might get an all-expenses-paid vacation to Club Fed.

It turns out that software company executives like the ones at ElcomSoft, whom a federal jury acquitted on Dec. 17 on charges of violating the DMCA, aren't the only people who might want to have a defense lawyer on retainer. Journalists might be affected too.

Our story starts with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site, which has an area called "Security and Law Enforcement" featuring four password-protected Microsoft Word documents. No password is necessary to download those encrypted documents, but a password is required to open and read them.

According to the brief descriptions on the TSA Web site, the four files cover airport security procedures, the relationship between federal and local police, and a "liability information sheet." A note on the site says this "information is restricted to airport management and local law enforcement." (Who knows? Maybe the sure-to-be-convincing reasoning behind banning those deadly nail clippers will be revealed.)

Anyway, a confidential source recently gave me what I believe is the correct secret password to the documents.

But here's the catch, and it's a pretty silly one: If I type the password into Microsoft Word or even tell you what it is, I could be liable for civil and criminal penalties under the DMCA. Section 1201 of the law contains two prohibitions: First, "no person shall circumvent a technological measure" that controls access to copyrighted information, and second, no one may publish information such as a password that's designed to circumvent "a technological measure that effectively controls access" to a copyrighted document.


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