SunnComm is a company that makes copy-protection software for specially encoded CD’s. They’ve based their entire business on this software, which basically allows a user to listen to a CD on their computer. That CD has certain copy-protection algorithms on it that prevent it from being copied (digitally) and converted into, say, MP3 files which can then be uploaded to, say, an iPod and heard while you’re walking or in the car or whatever.

Of course converting a CD that you’ve purchased into a set of MP3 files is considered “fair use” under copyright law and is completely legal. Similarly, taking individual tracks from that CD and creating a “mix CD” of your own is also fair use.

… So this student at Princeton figured out that if you listen to the CD using SunnComm’s software and hold down the Shift key on the computer, the copy-protection is disabled. He wrote a paper about it– although I haven’t read the paper, it’s apparently critical of SunnComm’s methodology and copy-protected CD’s in general.

And what happened? That’s right, SunnComm invoked the DMCA and sued the kid for publishing this paper (which apparently dropped their stock price 10% when it got out). They claim he did the unthinkable when he figured out what file in the software did the protection and hit “delete”. And of course there’s the whole shift-key problem, which was apparently an undocumented “feature” of the software that is now causing considerable embarrassment for the company since the record companies suddenly realize that all the money they paid to protect their CD’s was wasted.

This is yet another example of a company overstepping the bounds and using the Big Bad DMCA to quash legitimate publication of facts. A telling quote from the SunnComm filing says:

“Once the file is found and deleted according to the instructions given in the Princeton grad student’s report, the MediaMax copy management system can be bypassed resulting in the copyright protected music being converted or misappropriated for potentially unauthorized and/or illegal use. SunnComm intends to refer this possible felony to authorities…”

This is absurd. The student isn’t doing anything illegal by deleting a file, or holding down the shift key, or even telling others about it. Moreover, to say he should be charged with a *felony* because his instructions might lead someone to *potentially* use the software illegally is akin to saying “Sorry, I can’t sell you this gun because you could *potentially* use it illegally.” or even “Sorry, you can’t drive your car because you could *potentially* go over the speed limit.” Since when can people be sued for “potential” crimes– and more to the point, the potential crimes of people they don’t even know?

The rights of the consumer– and, indeed, the public at large– continue to be threatened by things like this. Companies seeking to protect their corporate interests (excuse me, I mean profits) seem to think it’s okay to sue anyone who finds something amiss with their products.