Calculators and DMCA

In my old times (end 70s), the first programmable calculators appeared: HP34 with inverted Polish notation (A twisted mindset needed!), and the TI57, TI 58 and overall the mythic TI59. It was the first programmable calculator with 1K RAM! And recordable magnetic strip, printer… The competitor was HP41C.

But one of the most funny part of these calculators was to discover their secrets, i.e., find ways to do things that they were not suppose to do or find hidden features. We exchanged and searched feverishly these tips.

The recent episode of Texas Instruments (TI) reminded me these glory days. (sniff). Hobbyists succeeded to install different OS on TI’s latest graphical calculators. The applications are normally signed. Hobbyists succeeded to reverse engineer the signing keys and published them on blogs. Thus, TI issued letters demanding the bloggers to remove the information due to DMCA violation.

Mid October 2009, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represented three persons who received such notifications. EFF claimed that DMCA allowed reverse engineering to create interoperable custom software like the program.

End of October, TI has dropped the threats against these persons. Nevertheless, it seems that TI continues to issue such letters to other bloggers.

I believe that some people have the compulsory need to “hack” in the Noble sense a system that they own. It is a intellectual challenge. It is usual in the game console domain and even in the mobile phone. Sometimes they have the blessing of the manufacturer (Sony and the PS3). More often, they do not have it (XBOX, Wii, DS, iPhone, …) The hobbyists are not driven by greed, they are driven by intellectual challenge. Unfortunately, sometimes their work is reused by pirates who are money driven.

Should a manufacturer fight back hobbyists? If their work endangers the business model of the manufacturer, then the answer is yes. Else, the answer is not Manichean. Many other parameters may be analyzed: safety, liability,…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *