Research and Remixes the Law Won’t Allow

Some day, your life may depend on the work of a security researcher. Whether it’s a simple malfunction in a piece of computerized medical equipment or a malicious compromise of your networked car, it’s critically important that people working in security can find and fix the problem before the worst happens.

And yet, an expansive United States law, passed in 1998 and emulated in legal codes all over the world, casts a dark legal cloud over the work of those researchers. It gives companies a blunt instrument with which to threaten that research, keeping potentially embarrassing or costly errors from seeing the light of day.

That law is Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Simply put, Section 1201 means that you can be sued or even jailed if you bypass digital locks on copyrighted works—from DVDs to software in your car—even if you are doing so for an otherwise lawful reason, like security testing.

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