Thursday, December 8, 2022
The D.C. Circuit ruled this week that the DMCA doesn't violate the First Amendment rights of an inventor who wanted to create and sell a device that would circumvent technological protection measures for copyrighted digital content.
The case, Green v. U.S. Department of Justice, tests the DMCA's prohibition on "circumvent[ing] a technological measure that effectively controls access to a [copyrighted work]," or trafficking in technology, product, or service that "is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a [copyrighted] work."
Andrew "bunnie" Huang said that he wanted to create and sell a device that would so circumvent, and that he also wanted to publish his computer code to share with others. He brought a pre-enforcement challenge to the DMCA under the First Amendment.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that he's unlikely to succeed on the merits. (The case came to the court on Huang's appeal of the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction.) The court held that Huang's code was, indeed, speech, but that the DMCA was a content-neutral regulation, because the statute "cares about the expressive message in the code 'only to the extent that it informs' the code's function." (Quoting City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising (2022)). The court then held that the DMCA easily passed intermediate scrutiny: it furthers an important or substantial government interest in protecting copyrighted work; the government interest is unrelated to the suppression of free expression; and the incidental restriction on free speech is no greater than necessary to advance that interest.