Thu Sep 5, 2002

Adobe on the Sharp End of the DMCA

Edward Felten reports that Adobe is discovering the downside of the DMCA:

Here is the story, as far as I can tell at this point: Any TrueType-compatible font can be labeled with bits saying whether permission is granted to embed the font into documents. Adobe Acrobat apparently does not always obey the bits’ commands. Adobe says they have good reasons for this, and that in any case Acrobat’s use of fonts does not infringe any copyright. The other party (International Typeface Corporation, or ITC) says that Acrobat is a DMCA-violating circumvention device.

Acrobat reader is, as you probably know, a very widespread and useful way of sharing typeset documents. If it turns out to be a “circumvention device” under the DMCA’s rules, it would be either (a) a disaster for Adobe and everyone who uses PDF files, or (b) an illustration of the DMCA’s absurdly wide sweep. As Felten says, “there is some karmic justice in the fact that Adobe, which kicked off the Sklyarov/Elcomsoft DMCA mess, now finds itself on the other end of a DMCA threat.”

My own take on this stuff is forthcoming in a review article in the Journal of Political Philosophy this winter. You can read the proofs of the article, Digital Technology and Cultural Goods, if you like. It’s in, um, PDF format.