German IT site barred from linking to CD-burning software site.
A German court has issued a writ, ordering IT site Heise Online
to remove links pointing to slysoft.com, sellers of CD and DVD burning software. The court cited German copyright law which prohibits anyone from promoting anything that circumvents copy protection (DRM). The court also alleges Heise has posted instructions for side-stepping anticopying technology.
Could something like this happen in the U.S.? Maybe, though I doubt the mere posting of links to a s/w vendor would give rise to a legal action. Posting anticircumvention instructions
may, however. In the U.S., it is unlawful for anyone to circumvent any copyright protection measure (Section 1201).
This is part of the DMCA. Section 1201 also prohibits the manufacture, importation, or offer of such anti-circumvention technologies.
However, U.S. law does not go so far as to ban all discussion of it. In fact, there is a clause in 1201 (para.(c)(4)) specifically stating that free speech and the rights of the press shall not be "enlarged or diminished...for activities using consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing products."
But blurring the picture is the long-held view by U.S. courts that First Amendment free speech rights are not an adequate defense to copyright infringement. Thus, it seems, we have a conflict.
That said, there have been U.S. cases where certain writings have been suppressed. Scientific research has been muzzled due to fears of copyright infringement. In Felton v. RIAA
, a Princeton University researcher found holes in SDMI, a DRM technology, and planned to give a presentation on his findings. The RIAA swifly threatened to sue. Felton backed down, but sued to obtain an injunction in his favor. The court dismissed Felton's suit. The RIAA later backpeddled its position, saying that it had not intended to squelch academic research. But the damage was done. The case created a chilling effect throughout academia. Eventually, Felton was able to give his presentation.
And let's not forget the Sklyarov case
, the Russian programmer arrested on federal charges for providing means for cracking Adobe ebooks. After a massive public outcry, Adobe dropped support for the prosecution, though the U.S. Attorney's Office claimed it could still build a case. Sklyarov was allowed to return to Russia.
So the answer to the question "Can it happen in the U.S.?"
is "who knows?"
There certainly have been precedents, but no one can be sure if a similar action would prevail. In any case, the public outcry would be huge. Still, court cases are not decided on public opinion. The Felton and Slyarov cases fell apart because the litigating parties backed off, not because their cases necessarily lacked merit. Unfortunately, this leaves a vast uncertainty when free speech collides with copyright law.