The Super-Secret Shift Key
October 10, 2003 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Student sued after revealing CD copying secret. Apparently SunnComm Technologies is under the impression that mentioning that using the "shift" key on your computer will override its program's installation is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. And also, the company's lost $10 million in market value since the story aired. Which may also have something to do with it.
posted by jscalzi (21 comments total)
 
Since when has it been illegal to state that the emperor has no clothes?
posted by Gif at 9:07 AM on October 10, 2003


Since the emperor pushed his own legislation through congress, that's when.

On the bright side, this could be what gets this stupid law overturned.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2003


Even taking the claim seriously, the easy defense is that the user is not circumventing the copy protection software, because the copy protection software is never loaded. Instead, the user is simply disabling the autorun feature. Which, of course, any halfway-savvy computer user has done already anyway.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2003


Well, now SunnComm has dropped the suit, according to Princeton prof Edward Felten. Story in the Daily Princetonian here.
posted by pitchblende at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2003


In a related story, Dell announced that it is recalling every PC they've ever made so that they can remove all the "shift" keys.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2003


This suit might be the perfect one to illustrate how crazy and overreaching the DMCA is. Dimitry and Felten all a little, umm, intangible to normal user. A guy being sued because he told people the shift key would help them play copy protected CDs on their computer, that people can understand. Not I no pointing out the dll files and such makes the case a little more complicated than that, but it is a PR nightmare.

At least I hope it is.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:19 AM on October 10, 2003


Hey SunnComm! If you put your crappy corrupt disk in a regular CD player and feed the line-out into the line-in on a PC, you can copy the music your crappy protection tries to protect!

C'mon! Sue me for circumventing your digital protection measure!

And the great thing is, we in the UK are going to get the DMCA-a-like EUCD [European Union Copyright Directive] in the near future, since it's just been voted through by our MPs.

The joys of watching democracy being undermined by capitalism.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:38 AM on October 10, 2003


The Daily Princetonian article clarifies something that's vague in the original post: that SunnComm was actually suing Halderman over "unfair criticism," NOT over the DMCA violations they alleged. Those allegations were just window dressing.

It's pretty lame when you sue over a bad review.
posted by coelecanth at 9:39 AM on October 10, 2003


It's a shame they didn't sue the University, because the DMCA wouldn't emerge from such litigation.
posted by oaf at 9:44 AM on October 10, 2003


coelecanth - there would be a lot more broadway shows out there if you could sue over bad reviews..... good point.
posted by djspicerack at 9:48 AM on October 10, 2003


The "Shift Key Solution" is nothing new. I cannot believe that the designers of this copy-protection scheme never considered this loophole. I've known for years that the way to prevent the execution of any CD's "autorun" application is to press the shift key, and I am not alone. It's not a secret. Even Bill knows!
posted by grabbingsand at 9:58 AM on October 10, 2003


Looks like they are not suing.
posted by crunchburger at 10:04 AM on October 10, 2003


Matt is so fucked.
posted by jpoulos at 10:09 AM on October 10, 2003


I see SunnComm attempt or wrong marketing idea of suing that dude as the "real" expression of what's embedded into DMCA - industry protectionism ; you can read what Association of Research Libraries has to say about DMCA here

In a few days , unless it's otherwise decided or action is taken, the Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works will expire on 28 October.

Two classes of works are exempt:

Compilations consisting of lists of websites blocked by filtering software applications; and

Literary works, including computer programs and databases, protected by access control mechanisms that fail to permit access because of malfunction, damage, or obsoleteness.

Which means that NEW malfuctioning or damaging programs that are created to prevent "circumvention" of copyright will be protected from 28 October. Oh happy joy (NOT!).

You can also read more about the exemptions here at U.S. Copyright Office.
posted by elpapacito at 10:13 AM on October 10, 2003


Ahem. Isn't this why threads are kept open for 30 days?
posted by punilux at 10:28 AM on October 10, 2003


The shift key work-around is not his innovation,
so the student is not guilty of any law violation.
posted by troybob at 11:47 AM on October 10, 2003


Just for the purpose of accuracy, it probably should be mentioned that SunnComm never did file suit, so there was technically nothing to drop. The front page post is a bit misleading in this regard.

That said, what idiots. "Waaah! Mommy! Alex opened my handcuffs with a bobby pin! Waaah!"
posted by pardonyou? at 12:30 PM on October 10, 2003


BTW grabbingsand, I sincerely doubt Sunncomm didn't know about the workaround. The issue they have is that it's the only way they can load their software onto your computer automagically
posted by bitdamaged at 12:36 PM on October 10, 2003


if i understand correctly, this software depends on autorun being enabled, and if it is not enabled, the software protects nothing. and they are worried about someone drawing "false conclusions concerning the robustness and efficacy of SunnComm's MediaMax technology"? hilarious.
posted by quonsar at 2:38 PM on October 10, 2003


The shift key work-around is not his innovation, so the student is not guilty of any law violation.

I don't believe that's true. The DMCA is such a crap law that you don't need to invent a workaround to copy restrictions. All you have to do is tell somebody about a workaround. The law actually makes telling an (open) secret a punishable crime along with many, many other bad things.
posted by willnot at 3:01 PM on October 10, 2003


>I sincerely doubt Sunncomm didn't know about the workaround.

Yep. Of course they knew. 14 year olds doing tech support know holding down shift while loading an autoplay CD will disable autoplay. Sunncomm (worse. tech. name. ever.) probably planned to break out the ol' DMCA to teach whoever spilled the beans first a lesson. It looks like their legal department sobered up and decided that this would be a lost cause and destroy the company, well more than its destroyed as of today.

Or perhaps their content industry masters told them to lay off because if they lost this case in a federal court the DMCA could be effectively fucked.
posted by skallas at 5:40 PM on October 10, 2003


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