Feeds

Texas Instruments aims lawyers at calculator hackers

Is device modding a punishable offense?

Boost IT visibility and business value

Lawyers for Texas Instruments are taking aim at a group of calculator enthusiasts who posted the cryptographic keys used to modify the devices so they run custom-designed software.

Over the past few weeks, TI has sent webmasters letters invoking the DMCA, or US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (PDF), and demanding they remove the keys published in blog postings. The private keys are needed to sign operating systems before they work on a wide variety of calculator models designed by the Dallas-based electronics manufacturer.

Because TI generated the keys using extremely weak 512-bit ciphers, the hobbyists were able to crack the vast majority of them in a matter of weeks using an open-source project for distributed computing known as BOINC. The keys make it possible for them to write DIY versions of firmware that in some cases hasn't been updated in more than four years.

"Writing an operating system allows us to use the calculator in ways that are either very difficult or infeasible with TI's operating system," said Brandon Wilson, a 25-year-old programmer who's been writing his own calculator software for about a decade. "By writing our own, we can go about things our own way."

In late August, an attorney sent Wilson a letter warning that a posting on his website ran foul of TI's copyrights because it contained "information that bypasses TI's anti-circumvention technology" that could defeat encryption systems protecting the TI-83 Plus OS. Wilson quickly complied and removed the keys.

On Monday, the attorney struck again, this time against University of Washington student Duncan Smith, who had published the keys' raw materials on ticalc.org, a website dedicated to, well, TI calculators. Smith also took down the posting.

Neither hobbyist consulted with an attorney before caving in to the demands, and that may have been a mistake. According to two attorneys, it's not at all clear TI is using DMCA takedown provisions as Congress intended. What's more, modifications to calculators may be similar to unlocking cell phones, an activity the US Copyright Office has formally exempted from the DMCA.

"When websites publish these cracked keys, the websites aren't violating the copyright per se," said Eric Goldman a professor specializing in cyber law at Santa Clara University. Rather, "they might be violating provisions of the anti-circumvention rules under the copyright act."

While it's clear the DMCA requires websites to remove content that infringes copyright, courts have yet to weigh in on whether those provisions apply to material that makes it possible for others to defeat electronic locks protecting copyrighted works, he added.

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
Too many IT conferences to cover? MICROSOFT to the RESCUE!
Yet more word of cuts emerges from Redmond
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.