Page:Fair Circumvention.djvu/16

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[Vol. 74:1

a. Chamberlain v. Skylink

In Chamberlain v. Skylink, the plaintiff, Chamberlain, manufactured garage door openers that incorporated what the court presumed to be copyrighted computer software code.[1] Chamberlain’s software was designed to recognize a certain set of transmitted numerical codes as valid commands to open the owner’s garage door.[2] Chamberlain included in its software a separate routine that would “reset” the listing of accepted codes, enabling a user to open their garage door even if the first transmitted code was not recognized as valid.[3] Skylink, a competitor, produced and sold a “universal transmitter” that was capable of operating with garage door openers sold by many other companies, including Chamberlain’s. Skylink’s transmitter was designed to transmit a burst of three code sequences in rapid succession that would either be recognized as a correct code, or else trigger the “reset” routine in Chamberlain’s software—resulting, in either case, in the opening of the owner’s garage door.[4]

Chamberlain sued, alleging that the code sequences were technological measures that protected access to the copyrighted software embedded in its garage door openers. The district court granted summary judgment to Skylink on Chamberlain’s DMCA claim, and the court of appeals affirmed.[5]

The court in Chamberlain, like the court in Reimerdes, characterized the dispositive issue as whether the defendant had authority to access plaintiff’s copyrighted work in the manner in which it did.[6] The two courts’ conceptions of what “authorization” entailed, however, could scarcely be more dissimilar. Whereas Reimerdes had looked only at whether the copyright owner had granted express permission for the defendant’s access,[7] the Chamberlain court viewed the lack of Chamberlain’s permission as essentially irrelevant to the

  1. The court believed itself required to assume that Chamberlain’s program was covered by copyright because of the procedural posture in which the appeal arose—to wit, the grant of summary judgment in favor of Skylink. See Chamberlain, 381 F.3d at 1185 n.4. Accordingly, the court refrained from discussing in detail whether the existence of a valid copyright—the sine qua non of protection under the DMCA, see infra note 166—had been satisfactorily demonstrated by the plaintiff. From what little the court’s opinion reveals, however, there would appear to be at least some grounds to question whether Chamberlain’s software, which was designed predominantly to fulfill the functional purpose of opening and closing owners’ garage doors, qualified for DMCA protection at all. See infra note 137; cf. infra note 120.
  2. For a fuller description of the operation of Chamberlain’s product, see Chamberlain, 381 F.3d at 1183-84.
  3. See id. at 1184-85.
  4. See id.
  5. Chamberlain Group, Inc. v. Skylink Techs., Inc., 292 F. Supp. 2d 1040, 1046 (N.D. Ill. 2003), aff’d, 381 F.3d 1178 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Chamberlain, 381 F.3d at 1204.
  6. See generally 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(3)(A)-(B) (2006) (defining both “circumvent a technological measure” and “effectively controls access to a work” in terms that require consideration of “the authority of the copyright owner”).
  7. See supra notes 48-49 and accompanying text.