Garage Doors: Opening for Digital Debate

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What do garage-door openers and digital content have in common? Quite a lot, according to fair-use advocate Public Knowledge and digital consumer-rights fan Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

According to a Public Knowledge spokesman, in oral argument in the case of Chamberlain vs. Skylink, two garage door equipment companies, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was invoked to buttress the argument that Skylink was violating the act by making openers that operated Chamberlain products.

"The situation was the same as if a consumer used a nonlegal player to play a DVD," said the lawyer for Chamberlain, according to Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky.

The DMCA was passed in 1998 to protect digital content from being illegally copied and distributed, but is has been warped into something else suggested Boucher in responding to the garage door oral argument.

"In 1998, Congress enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in order to make it illegal for scofflaws to use 'black boxes' to steal copyrighted works in digital form," said Boucher. Unfortunately, since then the law has been abused by competitors seeking to stop legitimate new products from coming to market, including a universal garage door opener 'clicker.'

To eliminate abuses and clarify consumers' rights, Boucher has introduced the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act, which Public Knowledge and consumer electronics groups support . It is opposed by Hollywood, which is backing a Senate bill, widely seen as a counter-volley to Boucher's effort, that would expand the target for copyright infringement.

Protecting its intellectual property from easy pirating in a digital world is a top priority for Hollywood, while fair use advocates have an ally in the companies that manufacture home taping and copying equipment.

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