I just asked a question about how to remove DRM from Kindle books that I had purchased and it was promptly closed by the moderator studiohack with the following comment:

We don't encourage this kind of behavior here on Super User, thus off-topic.

However, before posting this question I did a search and found a months-old question about removing DRM from ePub files, which is open and has an answer explaining how this can be done. This seems to be an inconsistency in policy.

I purchased many books that I would like to be able to use on devices from a different company. This is not possible without first removing the DRM. Doing so for personal use such as this is not illegal.

Is this or is it not a permitted topic. If not, why?


Here is the section of the law that I am referring to. Intent seems to be the most important thing: if you are breaking DRM for the purpose of violating copyright is is illegal, however....

(f) Reverse Engineering.— (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a)(1)(A), a person who has lawfully obtained the right to use a copy of a computer program may circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a particular portion of that program for the sole purpose of identifying and analyzing those elements of the program that are necessary to achieve interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and that have not previously been readily available to the person engaging in the circumvention, to the extent any such acts of identification and analysis do not constitute infringement under this title.

(2) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (a)(2) and (b), a person may develop and employ technological means to circumvent a technological measure, or to circumvent protection afforded by a technological measure, in order to enable the identification and analysis under paragraph (1), or for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, if such means are necessary to achieve such interoperability, to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title.

(3) The information acquired through the acts permitted under paragraph (1), and the means permitted under paragraph (2), may be made available to others if the person referred to in paragraph (1) or (2), as the case may be, provides such information or means solely for the purpose of enabling interoperability of an independently created computer program with other programs, and to the extent that doing so does not constitute infringement under this title or violate applicable law other than this section.

(4) For purposes of this subsection, the term “interoperability” means the ability of computer programs to exchange information, and of such programs mutually to use the information which has been exchanged.

IANAL, but it appears that discussing the topic would be permitted as long as we are discussing it with respect to interoperability and not piracy.

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this is generally discouraged, but we don't have an official policy on this, so we're hoping your question will firm it up one way or another. +1 for a good Meta question! –  studiohack Mar 17 '11 at 6:24
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To better back up your question, I suggest posting links backing up your claim of how this is "not illegal" –  KronoS Mar 17 '11 at 13:24
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I have added a quote of the relevant section and a link to that section in the context of the rest of the law. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 17 '11 at 15:08
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Somewhat related -> meta.security.stackexchange.com/questions/117/… –  Sathya Mar 17 '11 at 15:52
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There is a new Sheriff in town and the name is studiohack! ;-> –  Moab Mar 19 '11 at 23:00
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3 Answers 3

up vote 122 down vote accepted

Unless it is a clear call for warez, discussion of DRM should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Per Joel:

I would hate for us to censor legitimate, technical discussion just because what we're talking about happens to be illegal in some jurisdictions. We should have the same standards as universities: we should defend people's rights to free speech.

I think it's VERY MUCH DEBATABLE whether breaking DRM for the purpose of making backups is even illegal. It would be unhealthy if our diamond mods were running around being as strict as the Disney Corporation Inc. on DRM. It is hard to argue that there's anything even remotely socially unacceptable about breaking DRM for the purpose of backing up something you legitimately own.

And we're not even doing it, we're just talking about it.

Therefore, unless the post looks egregiously illegal, assume it is being asked in good faith about removing DRM on things you own, for your own fair use.

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Thanks @Jeff, appreciate the response! –  studiohack Mar 17 '11 at 20:27
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In that strange continent east of New York it's not only permissible - it's illegal to prohibit. Reverse engineering for the purpose of interoperability is explicitly part of the EU convention on software –  Martin Beckett Mar 19 '11 at 20:00
    
@Martin: Removing DRM is not reverse engineering DRM. It may be to the letter of American law, as mentioned in the OP, but it isn't to the letter of EU law and it isn't when you consider the meaning of the phrase. By which I don't mean removing DRM isn't legal on either side of the North Atlantic. –  Confusion Mar 20 '11 at 8:40
    
@Confusion - it depends on the purpose. if the DRM is to lock me into vendor A's platform then I am free to do anything I want to remove the DRM to enable me to use vendor B's - the great ICL / IBM plug compatible wars –  Martin Beckett Mar 20 '11 at 16:10
    
@Jeff When buying amazon ebooks, you buy the right to use them, not the ebook itself so you don't legitimately own them. However, I myself did remove the DRM of every ebook I bought from amazon to be able to prevent deletion by amazon (as it happened some time ago with one book). –  FSMaxB Nov 11 '12 at 14:54
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Would this policy apply to the other sites too?

Should we ask on StackOverflow if people are asking their programming questions to help them build a tool to remove DRM?

Should web site administrators on serverfault be asked if their site is hosting warez, and their question closed if they are?

Answering these questions could also be facilitating copyright violations.

My answer:

Removing DRM is legal, and there's no reason not to help people with it.

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Removing DRM is legal... That depends on the country you're in. AFAIK germans are not even allowed to link against such things like the libdvdcss to watch their legally bought DVDs on a Linux. Anyway, since SE is in the U.S., they're under the U.S. laws. Though, I've never read through those. –  Bobby Mar 17 '11 at 13:10
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So, everyone posting to any stackexchange site needs to be aware of all countries' laws and, and be prepared to close any question that may facilitate breaking a law in any country? –  Randy Orrison Mar 17 '11 at 15:46
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Please re-read my next to last sentence. SE is under U.S. Law. I just meant that you can't generalize it like that. –  Bobby Mar 17 '11 at 21:58
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That question was posted way before the wrath of our shiny new ♦ moderator studiohack was here to guide us to the path of righteousness... ;)

No, but in all seriousness, you might not use the answer to your question to perform illegal actions and we do not per se question that. However, the internet is pretty much open to anyone.

As the other question's OP stated:

Simply breaking DRM is not illegal in the US according to 5th Circut Court of Appeals (see this article for a quicker analysis). Basically it's legal to remove DRM on your own files as long as you don't then use them to violate the copyright. Even if you disagree with the decision, at the very least it's debatable, not illegal.

But we can't guarantee no one will read and use the answer that IS trying to break copyright. Thus there's a posibility that we, as the Super User community will be facilitating these people.

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There are many things discussed on other Stack Exchange sites that could be used to violate the law. I have a question about using wget that could potentially let me make and distribute illegal copies of copyrighted content from the internet. There are many questions about how to resolve security issues describes those issues to a level that would allow them to be exploited. It is impossible to control what people do with knowledge, but disallowing anything that has a potential illegal use seems like overall. If that is what we want to do, a large number of questions will need to be deleted. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 17 '11 at 15:13
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Removing DRM is quite a lot more controversial compared to wget if you get my drift... –  BloodPhilia Mar 17 '11 at 15:23
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@BloodPhilia But removing passwords from Windows is openly discussed. Basically allowing people to hack other peoples machines –  Joe Taylor Mar 17 '11 at 15:50
    
@JoeTaylor Refer to my previous comment and replace wget by that topic. –  BloodPhilia Mar 17 '11 at 15:57
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@BloodPhilia - As a User I care far less about the removal of DRM than the possobility of average users being freely able to remove the administrator passwords on my machines. –  Joe Taylor Mar 17 '11 at 16:16
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@JoeTaylor As a purchaser and user of digital content I care far more about being able to actually use what I have legally purchased than I do about the other users in my house who already have administrative access to my PC figuring out my passwords. –  Randy Orrison Mar 17 '11 at 23:04
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@Randy Orrison That's totally not what I meant. I'm talking about users gaining access to machines they shouldn't be able to use using methods discussed here. If we're open to one thing we should be open to all. I fully agree with Jeff's posting here. It's not for us to pre-judge how people are going to use the knowledge, only to provide it in good faith. –  Joe Taylor Mar 18 '11 at 9:54
    
@JoeTaylor Oh yes, as an administrator I would care more about users misbehaving or miscreants breaking into the systems I'm responsible for, but as a user those things don't bother me nearly as much as simply being able to use stuff I've paid for. Just providing a different point of view, not really disagreeing with what you said. Jeff's is a great official position. –  Randy Orrison Mar 18 '11 at 13:36
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I will always vote for freedom of information, no one has a crystal ball on others intentions, one could say we cannot help someone repair a PC because they may use it to break the law, or its a stolen PC, unless it is outright obvious that someone is intent on breaking the law, I say post the information. –  Moab Mar 19 '11 at 22:58
    
Classic ♦ mod drive-by: vote down, close, & move on; the best way for the ivory tower to keep others from sharing practical experience with the uneducated masses trying to do it on their own. –  Chris K Dec 30 '13 at 13:02
    
-1: A question askable in good faith, and answerable in good faith, should be disallowed because some unscrupulous people may come along and find the knowledge and do something "unethical" or "illegal" with it? This presumes that the information cannot exist somewhere else that the unscrupulous people could find out how to do what they're looking to do. It additionally implies that no other person that might come by looking for the answer to do something completely legitimate. We are not qualified to be the thought police. Thinking we are is... unwise. –  killermist Jan 3 at 15:20
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"But we can't guarantee no one will read and use the answer that IS trying to break copyright." <-- This is something that is supposed to be our job? "Thus there's a posibility that we, as the Super User community will be facilitating these people." <-- Um, no. They're facilitating themself with information that just happens to exist here, but probably also exists other places they can get to, especially if they have access to unscrupulous sources too. –  killermist Jan 3 at 15:26
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