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Supreme Court Lets Utilization Rights Stand

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the no-discussion dept.

The Courts 341

Moof writes "The United States Supreme Court refused to hear a case between a programmer and his former employer. What makes this news is the fact that the court is letting stand the rulings of the lower courts: Essentially if someone owns a physical copy of software, then they are allowed to modify the code as part of their regular use, no matter what other agreements are in place."

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How does he legally claim copyright? (5, Interesting)

XorNand (517466) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982293)

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by a programmer who sued his former employer for changing his programs' source code.
I RTFA, but don't understand how the programmer could claim copyright on something he wrote while being employed by this company. All work produced by a person during the course of his/her employment is owned by the employer, not the employee. Unless this guy had a special employment contract, or coded in his free time?

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (5, Informative)

Xentor (600436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982320)

Maybe it was more of a consultant gig, where he sold them a black-box custom solution. They'd own the program, but he'd keep the code. They'd get it a little cheaper, but they'd have to hire him again whenever changes were needed...

I've seen this tactic before... I wouldn't work that way.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982376)

I wouldn't work that way What way is that? Getting a check? If you need a check and the employer wants to do buisness that way then why not? the buisness is happy and your happy with food on the table.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (2, Interesting)

Xentor (600436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982433)

Hey, if I write a piece of software for hire, they get the code too. They buy it, they own it.

Obviously this wouldn't apply to a shrink-wrapped commercial product, but then, that's not what this is about.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982653)

But why did he leave the source code on their servers? If he was really interested in keeping control of the source code, he shouldn't have relied on his password-protected files and just taken the source with him, leaving nothing on the company's servers.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (5, Interesting)

aitikin (909209) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982377)

I understand that's the way the laws and contracts are written. Thing is, a photographer is hired to take a picture for someone. The photographer takes said picture, gives the person the picture and is paid for it. Who owns the copyright? The photographer. Because of my understanding on that, I understand where the coder is coming from (to an extent. Lesson here, read you contract before signing!).

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (1)

fribhey (731586) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982502)

that's because the photographer is hired for a specific job and most (if not all) photographers have contracts that state that the image taken is own by them. this programmer was employed by a company - not hired for a specific job - therefore the employer owns all the programmers work while that programmer was employed. there's a big difference there

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (2, Informative)

XorNand (517466) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982584)

Well, there's a difference between putting a photographer on the payroll and hiring him just for your wedding. If the photographer worked for a studio, the studio owner would actually own the images, not the guy who snapped them. The term "employee" (which was used in the article) has a very specific legal definition. Google "employee contractor IRS" to see exactly how well-defined it is.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (2, Interesting)

MSZ (26307) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982379)

Probably he had some rights in the program, if he didn't, the justification would be "you do not have copyright get lost", not about usage rights.

I think the more important issue is that the court affirmed basic rights of a copy owner. These are under attack from EULAs and other directions. Good to see them recognized.

Windows source leaks... (1)

hackwrench (573697) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982548)

Let the Windows source leak downloading commence!

But this also bodes good for the Tcpip.sys and UXTHEME.DLL patch, as well as all the other patches out there.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982381)

Actually, that's not always the case. Copywrite law says that the author is the owner, unless they expressly give up those rights. Most of the time employment contracts have clauses that do just that; make the programmer give up rights to the code to the employer. Sometimes, though, it gets overlooked (especially with small companies that don't know any better). It's happened to me before, actually.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (3, Informative)

lantenon (867508) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982578)

From the wiki on work for hire [wikipedia.org] :
A "work for hire" (sometimes expressed as "work made for hire") is an exception to the general rule that the person who actually creates a work is the legally-recognized author of that work. According to copyright law in most countries, if a work is "made for hire", the employer - not the employee - is considered the legal author. The employer may be a corporation or an individual.

The employee doesn't own this; the corporation does.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (0, Flamebait)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982392)

For a minute I thought the court was being fair minded ... but now I see that this benefits a corporation so naturally they ruled this way.

Huh? (2, Insightful)

Descalzo (898339) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982550)

Are you serious? Fair is only fair as long as it benefits the people you like?
Remind me never to play any games with you.

I apologize if you are being sarcastic, but you never know.

We don't have sarcasm on Betelgeuse V.

Re:Huh? (1)

Monkelectric (546685) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982636)

Im just saying the only chance we have of getting a "good" rulling is if its in a corporations favor, not that this ruling in itself is bad. I think history shows that the deck is stacked against individuals.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (4, Insightful)

emag (4640) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982426)

I don't understand it either. It sounds from TFA as though he wrote these programs in the normal course of his employment, clearly making the software the property of the company. That he "placed locks on the code and stipulated that Titleserv could run--but not alter--the programs" sounds as though he was attempting to hold the company hostage. Even with some additional information in one of the comments [com.com] on TFA, it sounds like it was a co-ownership situation, where the company had every right in the world to make modifications as it needed them.

Wrong? (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982440)

"All work produced by a person during the course of his/her employment is owned by the employer, not the employee. Unless this guy had a special employment contract, or coded in his free time?"

IANAL, but I don't think that happens by default. That's why companies have you sign something that makes it explicit.

I interpret this as good news. It means you should be free to modify stuff you bought to make it do your bidding regardless of what the copyright owner may want you to do with it. This would seem to include running DeCSS to make data usable - well if not for the DMCA. Actually, wouldn't the company in this case be guilty of circumventing the "locks" the programmer put in place? That'd be a DMCA violation wouldn't it?

Not enough details in the article about the "ownership" of the code or the charges brought against the company.

You can't generalize it like that (5, Insightful)

billstewart (78916) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982646)

First of all, this wasn't a Supreme Court decision - it was a Supreme Court refusal-to-decide, which leaves the appeals court for whatever district the case was filed in governing the case in that district only. If the appeals court or the district court below it wrote a really good opinion, it can be influential in other cases in other districts, but it doesn't have to be.

Second, there were obviously contractual issues going on here. The news article doesn't say when or where the programmer wrote the programs, or whether he was a consultant or regular employee, or whether they were "work for hire", or what other contracts they had. It doesn't sound like typical work for hire by an employee, because that would normally be owned by the employer and the case would have been a slam-dunk way earlier. So the results of this case are likely to only be useful if you've got a similar contractual agreement, and we don't know what that agreement is because the article doesn't go into that kind of detail.

Re:Wrong? (1)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982658)

Actually, wouldn't the company in this case be guilty of circumventing the "locks" the programmer put in place? That'd be a DMCA violation wouldn't it?

From TFA, this was filed in 1996, pre-DMCA. Now it would be a DMCA violation, but back then it wouldn't have been.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982530)

The employer would own the copyright if the object in questions is a work for hire... but it's sometimes hard to judge whether the business relationship is employer-employee or not [copyright.gov] .

Also, without knowing the details of the case, it is possible that his agreement contract included a clause that he would retain copyright over his work. It's complicated as well by the fact that the company he worked for was not in the business of producing the product in question.

Re:How does he legally claim copyright? (1)

Darius Jedburgh (920018) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982560)

Unless this guy had a special employment contract
You say this as if it's unusual. People make all kinds of contracts with their employers. Examples I've seen in recent years among colleagues: two guys who claimed to exclusively own the source code they wrote and deleted it upon leaving the company (leaving only executables) and one who claimed non-exclusive ownership of any code he worked on allowing him to take any source file he touched with him when he left. These were employees not contractors.

Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Interesting)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982301)

Ergo... If I have a physical copy of a CD, I'm allowed to alter it and/or its encryption, as I wish, to still hear my music so long as I'm not using it for any other purpose.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1, Interesting)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982364)

Especially, this means you are allowed to edit away the part that displays the EULA. Copyright can't affect use, just copying (as its name says), so you don't have to agree to have your rights restricted if you haven't agreed to it before (written contract, etc). That's good, as click-wrap EULAs have always been dubious.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982621)

IANAL.

I wish this ruling did mean that you can edit out EULAs, but IMHO it doesn't. Had Kraus (the developer) coded an EULA screen into the product, or even verbally stated that he was licensing the product to the TitleServ, then the case would have been completely different. The way SCOTUS said that the only changes that can be made to a copyrighted piece of software are changes that are made "as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a 18 machine," and used "in no other manner."

Changing the EULA or disagreeing with it may or may not be considered "an essential step." This is an interesting case, but the courts managed to carefully avoid any impact on EULAs.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982699)

Agreed on that- but given the recent discovery of Sony DRM software, suddenly this opens up a huge hole for reverse engineering DRM software- especially when said software doesn't work under say, Linux....

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (4, Informative)

no_opinion (148098) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982400)

Wrong, that cannot be concluded from the ruling. If you read the opinion you'll see it is limited to software programs, not music or movies.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Insightful)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982567)

If you read the opinion you'll see it is limited to software programs, not music or movies.

Maybe movies on VHS, but DVDs aren't just the storage of a movie for linear playback. Many commercial DVDs contain some programmed scripts that control how the content is played back. It has the capability to set and read variables and perform conditional branching.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

bratboy (649043) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982574)

I think the other important point is that the company OWNED a copy of the software, and the programmer was trying to apply restrictions to what they could do with the code that they owned. EULA's stipulate that you're LICENSING the software.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982585)

If you read the opinion you'll see it is limited to software programs, not music or movies.

So I can legally break the software protection schemes that the movie and software distributers have put into place on my media?

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

Bob(TM) (104510) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982639)

Except ... this does seem to muddy the waters a bit ...

One could argue there's not a substantial difference in programs (a list of instructions a computer interprets to perform functions), music (a sequence of encoded signals a player interprets to produce a waveform), and movies (a sequence of images decoded/displayed by a player to produce a moving record of an event).

Seems like someone could get very creative with this one in defense of fair use concepts ...

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Interesting)

Agilus (471376) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982647)

Easy solution: Someone make an interpreter that reads music files or encrypted files, or even better, ANY DATA FILE, as code. Just read sequences of bytes, and map each to a particular instruction, making sure to limit your language to be tolerant of bad memory accesses, or just disallow any bad accesses.

Such an interpreter could be used to make digital art. Then, any data file run through it -is- code. :) If no one has coined this idea yet, I claim first patent rights to it. :)

Why is that? (1)

Descalzo (898339) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982672)

While I am afraid the reason is not a logical one, I really wonder why that is so. Why would this be okay for software but not movies nor music?

Actually, now that I reread it, your post doesn't really make such a claim one way or another.

Still, it seems reasonable that they would both be allowed if one is. Is there a real reason why there is a difference? Come to think of it, how is this different that me removing the catalytic converter on my car to make it run more effeciently? It's not like I'm trying to pull a fast one on GM, I just want my car to do what I want it to do. I like to use analogies like this, because IANAL, and IANAProgrammer.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

hcob$ (766699) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982686)

Then the line is blurred even further with Sony installing software that limits your use of the music. So if you alter the sony program not to block you, does that mean you now didn't break the DMCA?

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Insightful)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982410)

Am I allowed then to also reverse engineer any software I buy on a CD?
An executable is also a "binary" source code (series of 1s and 0s), then I can transform it into assembly using a disassember.
So if I buy Windows XP, then I can run some of its parts through a disassembler, so I would have a more readable "source code", then I can change it any way I want, bypass any security mechanism, customize it to my liking and so on.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982539)

How was the parent modded as 'flamebait'? Moderators on crack - a common occurence on /.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Insightful)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982430)

Ergo not really. According to the article the changes constitute "an essential step in the utilization" of the program

You do not need to rip music to your computer hard drive as an essential step to utilize the music. You can play it from the CD player.

The article mentioned three criteria, and between the second and third there was the word and which means all three criteria must be met. The third criteria could also be argued against you.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Insightful)

WhiteWolf666 (145211) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982573)

I cannot play it from CD on my iPod.
My Lexus's CD player will not play some DRM encrypted CDs.
My Linux system (and I own nothing but Linux & OS X systems) will not run the proprietary DRM rootkits that enable access to various disks.

For me, in several situations, I cannot use these CD players. I do not own a standalone CD player, except for the changer and 1-shot in my Lexus.

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982657)

OS-X can't play CD's? Linux has problems playing CD's? I think a lawyer will argue "We make our CD's very easy to play on the majority of systems out there. While there are systems out there that will not work, it is impossible to cater to every single person and protect our intellectual property. Good sir, we will offer you a refund on your most recent CD purchases, but continue to rip our content and circumvent our legally allowable copyright protection and we will p0wn your @$$. Thank you"

Re:Fair use has been reinforced... (2, Insightful)

SpasticThinker (892651) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982449)

I think that the problem with cracking copy protection or reverse engineering software is not in you doing it for yourself - after all, if you did it only for yourself, no one would ever find out about it and sue you.

It's the fact that almost 100% of the copy protection cracking/etc is done so the product can be freely distributed that has software/music/movie companies up in arms.

second (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982310)

Third, maybe?

Anus is dribbling. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982311)

So now we can apply no-cd cracks and the like to out shit?

this is good to know (0, Offtopic)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982315)

i have all of my code from each job archived since 1999. It is always a great reference.

Re:this is good to know (1)

jnaujok (804613) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982370)

Amateur, my archives go back to 1986. Of course, it's hard to find a 5 1/4" floppy drive these days.

Re:this is good to know (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982498)

you didn't make image files of those agse ago? probably could have compressed a whole directory of those floppy images and burned to single cd-r, or just have it on spinning storage.

Re:this is good to know (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982547)

I have all my work stored on punch cards and filed in huge cardboard boxes in my garage. What are these "floppy disks" and "cd-r's" that you are talking about???

Re:this is good to know (2, Funny)

bfischer (648685) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982542)

You kids these days are something else. My archives go back to 1968, but I can't find a punch card reader anymore. ;)

Re:this is good to know... card reader (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982654)

It seemds to me that a cheap photo scanner and a bit of code should be able to read punch cards quite easily!

err... (3, Interesting)

soapdog (773638) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982319)

didn't read TFA but won't thing rulling be used against DMCA in the future, like enabling you to patch DRM software you own and stuff like that?

Re:err... (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982717)

Nice catch :) I would love to see someone try that if they are sued under the DMCA...

Company owning code? (1)

AdamWeeden (678591) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982325)

I was under the impression that without some sort of other agreement (which the article does not mention) that a company owns the code generated by its employees. Why wouldn't that apply in this case and making the modification of programs in your possesion moot?

It's important to read the contract before signing (1)

_PimpDaddy7_ (415866) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982352)

This is why it's so vital to read your employment agreement contract before signing.

Don't just read it yourself... (1)

the_rajah (749499) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982422)

have a competent attorney read it, too. Us civilians don't always comprehend all the nuances in legally convoluted wordings.

Contradiction (4, Interesting)

Apreche (239272) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982326)

Isn't this a direct contradiction of the DMCA? What if I buy a physical copy of a game that has copy protection and modify that copy protection? Did the lower court make a bad ruling? Or is it only ok if you are not circumventing a copy protection measure?

Precident (-1, Redundant)

DogDude (805747) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982366)

This is a good thing. This case could be a precident for attacking the DMCA.

Re:Precident (3, Insightful)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982387)

it would make a great precedent except that it happened afterward.

Re:Contradiction (1)

blibbler (15793) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982375)

I am not intimately familiar with the wording DMCA, but this code was written in 1995, so it probably isn't covered by the DMCA.

Re:Contradiction (1)

Xentor (600436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982380)

Well, from TFA:

it's legal for people to make changes to software, provided that they own a physical copy of the program, the changes constitute "an essential step in the utilization" of the program, and the software is used "in no other manner."

Circumventing copy protection just so you can play it (i.e. not to distribute it) seems like it fits there...

But then, I'm a programmer, not a lawyer.

it's that word "essential" (1)

conJunk (779958) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982436)

I reckon that in any anti-DMCA suit that tried to lean on this one, it would come down to the word "essential", where "rick-ass corporations protecting their proffit-making at the expense of fair use" is considered an "essential" aspect of the product.

Re:Contradiction (4, Insightful)

briancarnell (94247) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982469)

The article is quite clear that owning is very different from simply possessing a copy. Just because I have a copy of CIV IV does not necessarily mean I own the it under the definition used by the court here.

Re:Contradiction (2, Informative)

Xentor (600436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982571)

That's a good point... I forgot about the whole ownership vs. license distinction. In the case of the article, the company had to prove that this software fell into the "ownership" category, while normally we just buy "licenses" for software.

This link, posted in another comment, explains it better than the link in the /. submission...

http://wistechnology.com/article.php?id=2194 [wistechnology.com]

I stand corrected.

What if you own but have lost a key or media? (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982594)

Let's say you bought some software, and have a receipt to proove it - but then lose everything else. Since you have no installation key it would seem you have the right to crack the software you own in order to run it.

Re:Contradiction (2, Interesting)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982472)

Read the statement again..it lists THREE criteria and fills it with the word "and" which means you have to meet all three criteria. Ripping a game, or music or movie, is not an essential step in utilization. Also, it could be argued the third step. Not to mention, copy protection is covered under different laws. So even if you were correct about your statement and it was legal to do so, it is not legal to do so if a program has a copyright protection system (even a poorly designed one).

essential if your console isn't working (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982513)

Ripping a game *is* essential if you need to use an emulator to play it.

Re:Contradiction (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982697)

Ripping a movie is an essential step in utilization if you want to watch your shiny new DVD movie on your [S]VCD-only player, or on a PC too slow to play a DVD in realtime.

Re:Contradiction (1)

palesius (6386) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982421)

For those who didn't RTFA:
"He placed locks on the code and stipulated that Titleserv could run--but not alter--the programs, prompting a lawsuit from the company, which claimed it needed to make code tweaks in order to fix bugs and to perform other "routine" functions. Company employees ultimately picked the locks and made the changes they said they needed."

That sounds a lot like there were technological access control devices in place, which were then circumvented. I fail to see a basic difference between this and using DeCSS to view a DVD on a unsupported platform. Granted the suit being brought didn't seem to be about the DMCA. So it's entirely possibly that the employer could be innocent of infringement but not of violating the DMCA.

Re:Contradiction (2, Interesting)

Macadamizer (194404) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982495)

I fail to see a basic difference between this and using DeCSS to view a DVD on a unsupported platform.

The big difference between using DeCSS and this case is that in this case, the owner of the materials figured out for themselves how to break the protections in the code. The DMCA prohibits the distribution of methods for breaking copy protections, but it doesn't prohibit you, an individual, from figuring out how to do it yourself. If you could figure out DeCSS on your own, you are free to use it on your own system -- but you can't distribute the information without running afoul of the DMCA provisions in the copyright code, and you are not allowed to purchase or otherwise obtain tools or methods for cracking copy protection from others.

Basically, if you've got the skills to do it yourself, you can crack copy protection without running afoul of the copyright code. If you need help, or give help to anyone else, that's where you get into trouble.

Re:Contradiction (1)

SilentOne (197494) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982432)

From TFA:

Krause left the programs, which were designed to manage client information, on Titleserv's servers when he quit working for the company. He placed locks on the code and stipulated that Titleserv could run--but not alter--the programs, prompting a lawsuit from the company, which claimed it needed to make code tweaks in order to fix bugs and to perform other "routine" functions. Company employees ultimately picked the locks and made the changes they said they needed.

Sounds like it to me.

Tests Two and Three (2, Interesting)

IanDanforth (753892) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982454)

"Provided that they own a physical copy of the program"

This test alone would directly contradict the DMCA, however the modification must also:

"constitute 'an essential step in the utilization' of the program"

and somewhat confusingly

"the software [must be] used 'in no other manner.'"

So what we're looking at here is a case where essential software can be modified, or if the program must be modified before it can be used. Then that's legal.

So my question is, doesn't this mean I can alter/crack/reverse any program I want if I need to get it running on a *nix box? Isn't that essential for most programs before I can use it?

-Ian

Re:Contradiction (1)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982514)

The Game companies would argue that you do not need to circumvent locks to do common tasks with the game or other media such as playing it or patching it. Particularly since game companies offer patches to games and make them available for free usually on their sites.

And copy protection itself has almost no bearing on playing games if you are the legal owner. Most people have No-CD cracks to make life more convenient for them when playing on laptops or similar circumstances, but theres no reason you can't lug around the CD to play the game.

So, copying media remain just as illegal. The only time I'd imagine you could alter a game under this decision would be to patch it to make it work in a situation that required some sort of patch that the company refused to make for some reason.

This guy basically tried to set up a situation where they were locked into a support situation with him to get any patching done to keep the product working. This may actually be a useful case for some people, but I think it's scope is actually pretty narrow. You basically are allowed to fix what you own so it does what it is supposed to and keeps on doing that.

Re:Contradiction (1)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982684)

Isn't this a direct contradiction of the DMCA?

From TFA, this suit was filed in 1996, pre-DMCA. Now it would be a DMCA violation, but back then it wouldn't have been.

Re:Contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982727)

Possibly it is a violation of the DMCA, but it sounds like he sued under copyright law.

Even the supreme court :( (5, Funny)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982355)

Great, now the supreme court starts to utilize "utilize". What's the point of utilizing fancy new words when thare are some fine regular words we could be utilizing instead that do just as well ?

Ok so people can modify code as part of their regular utilizage, and we can uglify the language as part of our reguly utilization of it as well, blah.

Re:Even the supreme court :( (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982406)

Stop trying to obfuscate the issue.

Re:Even the supreme court :( (1)

LanceUppercut (766964) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982460)

I think that "utilize" is a perfectly cromulent word. There's nothing to complain about here.

A word used since 1807 is new? (1)

brokeninside (34168) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982694)

From the OED: 1807 J. BARLOW Columbiad IX. 683 [To] Improve and utilise each opening birth, And aid the labors of this nurturing earth. And given that it's a pretty straightforward Anglicization of French or Italian, I would be quite surprized if it wasn't in utilization prior to the nineteenth century.

What an idiot! (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982369)

Whatever the legal issues (I wonder if, had Titleserv not been able to get through his security measures and make the changes, they could have gotten a court to compel Krause to do it?)...

What an idiot! Who would ever hire Krause again, after this stunt? This is the kind of thing people here yap about doing in Ask Slashdot replies, but what fool actually does it?

Re:What an idiot! (1)

AviLazar (741826) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982499)

His contract might have allowed for this. At my company we utilize Dell Servers, and some Dell software - we are not allowed to modify this software. He might have had a contract that prevented other people from modifying the software - in essence making it so the company had to hire him for any and all edits. This is mere speculation on my part - but it would seem to fit this argument.

That freaking guy (3, Funny)

Hobbes897 (782722) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982383)

He placed locks on the code and stipulated that Titleserv could run--but not alter--the programs.
So much progress from one man's prickishness.

Work for Hire? (1)

Benanov (583592) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982388)

"He placed locks on the code and stipulated that Titleserv could run--but not alter--the programs, prompting a lawsuit from the company, which claimed it needed to make code tweaks in order to fix bugs and to perform other "routine" functions."

Translation: What a dick.

If this code was work-for-hire, then this would be completely illegal (and laughable). TFA doesn't go into detail about the agreement, so perhaps this was nothing more than someone trying to force something they knew they couldn't have.

I would have just switched to FLOSS or something rather than pick locks. (Then again, you'd probably have to pick locks in order to get the data out.)

Re:Work for Hire? (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982725)

If this code was work-for-hire, then this would be completely illegal (and laughable).

I was under the impression that if I worked for a company writing/fixing software, whether I was perm or temp, that the company owns that work and I can't deny them use of it, nor claim it for my own purposes. If I could, I'd be able to hold any company I did work for hostage. Exactly why would they hire me?!? And don't mosty companies make you sign an agreement that specifically states that they own your work and you can't take it with you? Sounds like both sides may have dropped the ball on this one.

The big point - who owned the code (5, Informative)

MyNameIsFred (543994) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982396)

See this [wistechnology.com] for more details. This issue appears to have been whether the company actually owned the source. The courts said yes.

Re:The big point - who owned the code (1)

Xentor (600436) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982598)

+5 Informative... That link should be in the submission, not the news.com one.

Don't get too excited! (4, Interesting)

bherman (531936) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982428)

The difference between this software and say MS Office is that you don't "own" MS office, you have a license to use it but you do not have property rights on it.

AFAIK.

IANAL.

How can you get any more cut and dry? (1)

ShatteredDream (636520) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982431)

The only way that the court might have ruled for him was if they paid him also to rent the software from him rather than transfer the rights to them. From the sounds of this ruling, it would seem to me like he needs to really start covering his ass from a countersuit by his former employer. Can you imagine someone with the gall to write a custom app for a client and then disable it when they feel that it is time to end their relationship with the client, without a rental agreement in place?

DMCA Violation! (5, Interesting)

Jtheletter (686279) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982438)

So is there any reason why this programmer can't turn around and start another suit claiming that the company violated the DMCA when they "picked the lock" and circumvented his digital security measure without his permission?

How is this any different than when I remove the DRM from an iTunes song as "an essential step in the utilization" of that song in my other digital music player(s)? Afterall, I own a physical copy of the software - the encoded song.

Maybe that's not the best example but there are lots of others that I'm sure slashdotters can some up with.

How is it that copyright law allows a holder's utilization to trump the agreement they had in place to run but not alter the software, yet pretty much any shrinkwrap/click-thru EULA isn't overruled by this same copyright utilization clause? Article was very light on details. Stinks of corporate favoritism at first glance.

Re:DMCA Violation! -- Flamebait? (1)

Jtheletter (686279) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982609)

OK, usually I don't muck about with responding to mods but I really am curious why this was modded as flamebait? Yes, I wrote it in a hurry but all the questions I asked seem pretty valid and were definitely not addressed in the article or summary. It seems as though this judgement flies in the face of other laws and precidents that apply to similar cases with digital media and protection measures. I'm not bashing anything I'm looking for clarification!

And to note that this looks like corporate favoritism is qualified by "at first glance" as well as the fact that it looks like corporate favoritism at first glance. Seriously, how else does one explain the previously noted oddities in this judgement that seems to be letting a company off the hook while private citizens are prosecuted for extremely similar offenses that seem just as likely to fall under this vague "utilization right" of copyright?

I'm sure there's a legal explanation, but I think we need more information. Next time mod, think about whether the poster is in fact being flammatory and just spewing insults or if perhaps they're making relevant remarks and clarifying questions that are totally relevent and deserve to be answered. I'll even post this at '1' so you feel better about it.

Own or license? (5, Interesting)

metoc (224422) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982473)

From the ruling:

Section 117(a)(1) provides an affirmative defense against copyright
infringement for anyone who
(i) owns a physical copy of a computer program,
(ii) makes an adaptation "as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine," and
(iii) uses it "in no other manner."

So if you 'owned' a physical copy of a Windows word processing app, and you adapted it so that it would run under Linux (machine), and made no other changes, you would not be infringing on someones copyright. But does the law distingish between 'own' and 'license'?

Not likely a DCMA issue (3, Interesting)

RingDev (879105) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982477)

He most likely ran the binaries through an obfuscator to make sure that any hard coded strings were appropriatly mangled and the code was not easily recoverable. That way, the code is "protected" but not encrypted and this would not fall under the DCMA's jurisdiction.

-Rick

Re:Not likely a DCMA issue (1)

EnderWiggin99 (84576) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982705)

ROT13 (and derivatives) is still encryption.

"Owning a copy" of a computer program (4, Interesting)

MotownAvi (204916) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982500)

This is pretty huge. From the PDF:

It is undisputed that Titleserv possessed executable copies of all the programs. The parties disagree whether Titleserv owned those copies within the meaning of 117(a). Krause claims that Titleserv never owned the program copies saved on its file server, but rather possessed the copies as a licensee pursuant to an oral agreement. Titleserv asserts that it owns copies of the programs because it paid Krause a substantial sum to develop them and has an undisputed right to possess and use them permanently.
(emphasis mine)

So suppose I go to CompUSA and buy Photoshop off the shelf. I paid a subtantial sum to Adobe, and I have an undisputed right to possess and use Photoshop permanently. Can I finally legally say that I own a copy of Photoshop?

Re:"Owning a copy" of a computer program (1)

www-xenu-dot-net (922425) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982674)

Can I finally legally say that I own a copy of Photoshop?

Depends on how much you pay your lawyer, and the judge.

Re:"Owning a copy" of a computer program (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982690)

You are actually buying a license, as in, legal permission to use the software. You dont own photoshop, but you are in posession of a copy with a license to use that copy within the terms of the EULA.

It sucks when you "buy the software" and realise you don't really agree with the EULA.

I suppose you could try and return it.

Re:"Owning a copy" of a computer program (1)

paradizelost (689394) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982719)

No, the company specifically paid the developer to write the program. they paid him a substantial amount, probably several thousand dollars or more, for said program. if you pay me $10,000 to write a program, you would assume that the program is yours, correct? not that i own it and have just licensed it to you for you to use. you paying $600 for photoshop from best buy, does not constitute a substantial sum of money, plus, you didn't hire adobe to write the custom program for you, they wrote it regardless of whether you were going to buy it or not. oh, btw, IANAL

Simple!! (1)

mayhemt (915489) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982503)

Use complex program logics & even foreign language words as your variables, function names, use complex boolean expressions to derive simple ORs/ANDs & (heck) no employer would be able to change the source code. they would have to start from scratch or put you back on that code.
(/my attempt of world domination)

Definition of the ruling (3, Informative)

acherrington (465776) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982549)

I think that a lot of people are jumping on the "I can get rid of the copyright protection on my CD/DVD/GAME/Etc...." band wagon. This isn't exactly correct.

The company involved owned the software... outright owned it. You must remember that when you purchase a copy of 99.99999999% of all works, you do not own it, rather you purchased a license for it. Bascially, they are saying you may mod your car or house, because you own it, but they haven't said anything about licensed software.

He wrote the programs in Clipper (1)

prgrmr (568806) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982559)

So the chances of a DMCA violation are minimal. HTML Version of the ruling here [72.14.207.104]

L33t-dissention (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13982582)

...But what if someone PWNS a piece of software?

A little bit of his side (3, Interesting)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982583)

Krause argued that Titleserv never owned the program copies at issue, but rather possessed them as a licensee pursuant to an oral agreement. Titleserv countered that it owned the copies because it paid Krause a substantial sum to develop them and had an undisputed right to possess and use them permanently.

This quote is from:
HERE [bna.com]

Hoy! An oral agreement.
Legal, binding, but not provable in this case.

Modchips now legal? (2, Interesting)

_KiTA_ (241027) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982600)

Does this count for modifying the bios (software) protection on systems such as the Playstation 2 and whatnot? Where does the limit stand between modifying software and modifying hardware that has software inside of it?

I would also point out that the PS2 comes with driver CDs. So presumably... you could modify it there, legally.

Right?

Two Issues (1)

olddotter (638430) | more than 8 years ago | (#13982723)

What does this mean for all the people who own computers with MS Windows installed on them, and have a real need to change the code to fix bugs that constantly reduce productivity?

Since the company in question broke the "locks" the copyright owner put in place, doesn't that violate the DCMA? Wouldn't the DCMA make their actions criminal (as apposed to just a civil case)?

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