Red Hat an involuntary participant in DMCA dispute.

Co-worker Bob pointed out the following article over at The Register about how Red Hat Linux has ended becoming a perfect example of the problems with the DMCA. It all involves a security patch they’ve released that they can’t tell you what it’s for if you live in the United States.

Red Hat has struck a small blow against the DMCA, by publishing a security patch which can only be explained fully to people who are not within US jurisdiction. The company’s position here seems to be not altogether voluntary – according to a spokesman “it is bizarre, and unfortunately something Red Hat cannot easily do much about,” but like it or not Red Hat has been recruited to the campaign to make the DMCA look ridiculous.

So what’s all this got to do with Red Hat? Well, non-qualifying people, we can’t exactly tell you that. But when we asked Red Hat about it we got an official comment which at least partially explains it: “RHSA-2002-158 is an errata kernel which addresses certain security vulnerabilities. Quite simply, these vulnerabilities were discovered and documented by people outside of the US, and due to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act legislation in the US, it is potentially dangerous to disclose any information on security vulnerabilities, which may also be used in order to circumvent digital security – i.e. computer security. For this reason, RH cannot publish this security information, as it is not available from the community in the first instance. The www.thefreeworld.net site allows for accessing this information, but requires you agree to terms which protect the author and documenter of the patches from being accusations that they themselves have breached DMCA.”

Got that? In some instances at least, the very act of explaining what has been fixed by a security patch could be construed as explaining how the security of a product could be breached, and hence could be viewed as a breach of the DMCA.

Gotta love it. I’ve been a big hater of the DMCA for a long time as it was clearly an unbalanced and poorly written law. As time goes by this truth becomes clearer and clearer as more unintentional problems such as the one above cropping up. The full article is a worthy read so go check it out.

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