StorageTek wins copyright injunction

In latest twist in controversial "anticircumvention" law, federal judge orders tape backup maintenance company to cease and desist.

A federal judge in Massachusetts has granted a preliminary injunction against a consulting firm that allegedly violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when performing maintenance on StorageTek tape backup systems.

U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel ruled that Storage Technology, better known as StorageTek, is likely to prevail in its lawsuit against a consultancy named Custom Hardware Engineering and Consulting, saying the controversial 1998 copyright law was violated when Custom Hardware effectively tricked a tape backup unit into believing that its technicians were granted full access to the system's internals.

StorageTek "is likely to succeed on the merits of all three of the claims asserted in support of the motion for a preliminary injunction," Zobel said in a ruling July 2. The other two arguments the company raised were copyright infringement and trade secret violations.

The StorageTek case is one of a series of lawsuits that are testing the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which Congress enacted in response to growing fears about Internet piracy. Section 1201 of the DMCA says that in general, nobody may "circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access" to a copyrighted work.

Some computer manufacturers and a vocal contingent of computer scientists are seeking to revise that section of the DMCA and have thrown their support behind a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure would permit circumvention as long as no copyright infringement is taking place--a requirement that, based on Zobel's ruling, would not help Custom Hardware.

A StorageTek system typically includes up to 24 control units that can hold hundreds of terabytes. A system contains thousands of tapes and a robot arm that manipulates them.

Zobel ruled that Custom Hardware violated the DMCA by tricking the "GetKey" security system into activating proprietary "maintenance code" that activated functions like event logging and a special user interface.

Custom Hardware circumvented "GetKey to gain access to the maintenance code and then resetting the maintenance level," Zobel wrote. "They thus stealthily obtain plaintiff's event messages, which they transmit to their own computers in Tucson, Ariz. From that data, defendants' service personnel learn what repair functions need to be performed."

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