Who owns the technology that now is intrinsic to our daily lives? Chances are, it is not you. While users may own the physical devices, the technology that drives them, the intellectual property that they rely on, and their operating systems — surprise — likely are owned and controlled by their creators, not their buyers-users. That has really raised the hackles of video gamers of late. And while aspects of their immediate battles with manufacturers might fall within the portfolios of those specializing in Entertainment Law, technology’s advance and the rise of the rampantly web-interconnected world — the Internet of Things — may be blurring and broadening the legal issues involved.
Dying Light take-down
Gamers may buy and own a cartridge or hold a specific license to access an entertainment but they do not capture ownership of critical underlying intellectual property. This has gotten to be a gnarly issue because frequent modifications or mods of key codes to play the games are becoming the norm. Who owns the mods? If gamers engage in do it yourself or DIY mods, do they infringe on makers’ copyrights?
The issue broke out online recently when fans of the Dying Light game received Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down notices for mod files they had shared via the Internet. Those disputed files had created no piracy concerns; they just modified game visuals. The take-down notices, however, cited “copyright infringement” and directed readers to an “anti-piracy” contact address. The take-down notice issuer, Entertainment Software Association, later called the incident a mistake.
But the technlogy news site Ars Technica termed the action’s timing suspicious. It occurred just days before the game developer also released a mod-blocking patch. That patch notice stated the update was necessary to prevent online cheating. But users suspect this patch and the take-down notice were ways for the game’s publisher and ESA, which represents many of the industry’s biggest publishers, eventually can block all online distribution of mod files.
Gamers’ ire has been stoked by a long line of patches, advertised as updates to protect games or systems; in reality, they say, these updates really appear to allow rights-holders more control over game-system modifications. Sony, for example, recently pressured Playstation users to install an update that removed their ability to run unapproved software; before this patch, gamers could install Linux OS and even combine consoles to create more powerful computers.
How private is data from that insulin pump?
It’s not all fun and play when it comes to questions as to who may access the information collected from devices. This can have practical and potentially deadly implications. Under the DMCA, it is unclear if patients with implanted medical devices like insulin pumps and cardiac defibulators might be barred from accessing the machines’ data. While the tech driving these devices belongs to rights-holders, should this prevent patients from accessing data collected from and about their own bodies? Timely and freely available access to this medical information could have serious implications for patients’ health and well-being.
Meantime, as cars start to carry ever more Internet-connected and driven technology, IP, remote controls and upgrades, and other issues that initially had affected game consoles and medical devices may be hitting consumers on the road, too. Some lenders have installed GPS trackers and “starter interrupt” devices to remotely locate and disable vehicles when their owners get behind on their loan payments or if they drive beyond defined areas, the New York Times has reported. As that story noted, however: What happens when motorists confront emergencies and they can’t respond — they can’t flee a natural disaster or they can’t race an ailing child to a distant hospital — because their vehicles are rigidly controlled by an on-board operating system lacking human oversight?
As technology advances, the legal issues multiply and they’re further complicated by illicit conduct, such as when third parties illegally hack into devices and remotely control use: BMW recently began sending out software patches to the 2.2 million cars equipped with it’s Connected Drive system; that system, the automaker said, made its vehicles vulnerable to unauthorized remote unlocking.
Who is listening?
Meantime, in the last decade, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, it’s worth recalling, acted to forbid the FBI and other police agencies from remotely eavesdropping or bugging conversations in vehicles equipped with OnStar services.
Is this discussion simply entertaining, a little sci-fi, and seemingly far-fetched? Speaking of entertainment: within the last few days, Samsung has grappled with reports that its smart televisions may be too clever by half, allowing the manufacturer to listen in to conversations nearby or to collect surreptitious data on owners. Online posts suggest this capacity is tied to the increasingly ubiquitous speech-recognition in devices, including smart phones and clever tablet. It may be that it’s unwise to tell Siri to stuff it because who knows what super upgrade she’ll get from remotely that will give her powers to get even more in your grill?