Copyright continues to serve its purpose as a tool for censorship, it seems. This week there was some hubbub over Apple’s highly questionable decision to send a DMCA takedown notice over a tweet by a security researcher who goes by “Siguza,” and who appeared to publish an iPhone encryption key on Twitter:
iPhone11,8 17C5053a sepi 9f974f1788e615700fec73006cc2e6b533b0c6c2b8cf653bdbd347bc1897bdd66b11815f036e94c951250c4dda916c00
— Siguza (@s1guza) December 8, 2019
Twitter took it down upon receipt of the takedown notice, but later put it back after Apple rescinded the takedown — either realizing that the takedown was bogus or futile (or, I guess, both).
You can understand (sorta) why Apple would want to protect the key, but copyright seems like exactly the wrong tool for the job. Of course, that’s often the case, but copyright is such an easy tool to abuse to try to silence speech that it is often the preferred tool of would-be censors. This is just one example. But it does raise questions. Is an encryption key even copyright-eligible? That seems highly unlikely. Copyright only is supposed to apply to the creative elements of a work, and it would be difficult to argue that an encryption key meets the “creative” level necessary. US courts have already decided that phone numbers are not subject to copyright (even made up numbers), so it seems unlikely that an encryption key would pass muster for getting a copyright.
Potentially Apple could have been making a DMCA 1201 “anti-circumvention” argument as well — but even that seems silly, and only highlights the problems of the anti-circumvention provisions of Section 1201 of the DMCA. When a single tweet with a single code is seen as “circumvention” then there’s a big problem — and that problem is the law.
It’s good that Apple backed down on this, though it still highlights the problems of the DMCA takedown process, and how it can be used unfairly for censorship — even if that “censorship” completely backfired this time.
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