Licensing as Digital Rights Management, from the Advent of the Web to the iPad

Reuven Ashtar
13 Yale J.L. & Tech. 141

This Article deals with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention provision, Section 1201, and its relationship to licensing. It argues that not all digital locks and contractual notices qualify for legal protection under Section 1201, and attributes the courts’ indiscriminate protection of all Digital Rights Management (DRM) measures to the law’s incoherent formulation. The Article proposes a pair of filters that would enable courts to distinguish between those DRM measures that qualify for protection under Section 1201, and those that do not. The filters are shown to align with legislative intent and copyright precedent, as well as the approaches recently adopted by the Fifth Circuit, in MGE v. GE, and the Librarian of Congress, in granting the iPad “jailbreaking” exemption. The Article contends that articulating a coherent standard for legitimate circumvention would serve rightsholders by clarifying the scope of their protections, as well as prospective inventive competitors and generative consumers.