The always-innovating Bunnie Huang has a new project that comes with a lawsuit (or a lawsuit that now comes with hardware). The NetTV2 is an open source FPGA development platform that Bunnie has created for processing unencrypted video standards. The board is being crowdfunded on Crowd Supply in conjunction with a lawsuit that Bunnie has filed with the help of the EFF. Bunnie writes:
Currently, innovation in digital video is severely hampered by the legal restrictions of Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The NeTV2 is an FPGA-based development board optimized for open digital video applications, and just like any other development board, the access capabilities of the NeTV2 are limited by the law. Relatedly, with the help of the EFF, I’ve filed a lawsuit against the US government to reclaim our rights to innovation and expression with all forms of digital video. As a backer of this campaign, you will not only get a great FPGA development board, you will also be helping to make the case that there is a real demand for the freedoms to innovate and express in digital video.
So, why is it illegal to roll a video app that say, translates video’s real-time output into text, something you are allowed to do on, say your smartphone? In a piece Bunnie wrote on Boing Boing, he explains:
This is due to a quirk of the DMCA that makes it unlawful for most citizens to bypass encryption – even for lawful free-speech activities, such as self-expression and innovation. Significantly, since the founding of the United States, it’s been unlawful to make copies of copyrighted work, and I believe the already stiff penalties for violating copyright law offer sufficient protection from piracy and theft.
However, in 1998 a group of lobbyists managed to convince Congress that the digital millennium presented an existential threat to copyright holders, and thus stiffer penalties were needed for the mere act of bypassing encryption, no matter the reason. These penalties are in addition to the existing penalties written into copyright law. By passing this law, Congress effectively turned bypassing encryption into a form of pre-crime, empowering copyright holders to be the sole judge, jury and executioner of what your intentions might have been. Thus, even if you were to bypass encryption solely for lawful purposes, such as processing video to translate text, the copyright holder nonetheless has the power to prosecute you for the “pre-crimes” that could follow from bypassing their encryption scheme. In this way, Section 1201 of the DMCA effectively gives corporations the power to license when and how you express yourself where encryption is involved.
The Crowd Supply campaign just recently launched and has already almost met its base goal of $15,000. It has 45 days left. You can see the lawsuit, filed back in 2016, here. Bunnie hopes that the social and media exposure that the NetTV2 gets, and the crowdfunding effort, will draw awareness and support to this ugly kink in the DMCA law and how it impacts innovation and creativity in the video space.