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EFF Warns TI Not To Harass Calculator Hobbyists 405

Posted by kdawson
from the right-to-tinker dept.
Ponca City, We love you writes "The EFF has warned Texas Instruments not to pursue legal threats against calculator hobbyists who perform modifications to the company's programmable graphing calculators. TI's calculators perform a 'signature check' that allows only approved operating systems to be loaded, but researchers have reverse-engineered signing keys, allowing tinkerers to install custom operating systems and unlock new functionality in the calculators' hardware. In response, TI has unleashed a torrent of demand letters claiming that the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act require the hobbyists to take down commentary about and links to the keys. 'This is not about copyright infringement. This is about running your own software on your own device — a calculator you legally bought,' says EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. 'Yet TI still issued empty legal threats in an attempt to shut down discussion of this legitimate tinkering. Hobbyists are taking their own tools and making them better, in the best tradition of American innovation.'"
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EFF Warns TI Not To Harass Calculator Hobbyists

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  • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by conteXXt (249905) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:38PM (#29739543)

    Exactly. If the EFF decides to pursue this to the end, it will more than likely give others pause when trying to stop people from USING their PURCHASED electronic devices.

    They aren't talking about "hacking IP". They are talking about using hardware, think linux on Intel hardware. If Intel required signed bootloaders, do you think the law would protect them too?

  • Re:Perfectly valid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Quasar1999 (520073) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:48PM (#29739605) Journal
    All sorts of companies produce the exact same hardware and then have a registry bit/flag hidden somewhere to enable the more expensive features. nVidia and their Quadro cards comes to mind... Or Intel and their underclock/overclock crap... the chips are identical, one is stamped with a different number and frozen at a different multiplier.

    TI probably has some features disabled or unavailable in their lower-end models, hack the software, and lo and behold, the actual hardware can probably do most of the same stuff the more expensive model can. I can see why they wouldn't want people *SHARING* this information with the general public.

    Actually, come to think of it, if TI loses on this one, I'm quite eager to start 'testing' satellite TV signals again... After all, it's just some keys used for signing, right? I purchased my hardware receiver for money, right? Quite the slippery slope, isn't it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:58PM (#29739697)

    The DMCA is totally ridiculous, but it's the only thing TI can grasp onto in this situation. TI graphing calculators are the de facto standard for many high school and university level math classes. It's easy to verify that one has had the memory erased when it's in an untampered state. Of course there are somewhat sneaky ways to make it look like it's been erased without close inspection, but performing the reset in front of someone made it almost a certainty. If the hack causes schools to move away from such an "untrustworthy" device, TI stands to lose many sales of those overpriced gadgets.

  • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geminidomino (614729) * on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:59PM (#29739717) Journal

    Not a bad question, despite the flaming and/or dismissive replies.

    My guess is that they feel like they have a better chance of winning if TI calls their bluff about calculators than if Nintendo did about Wiis, since the "it's only for teh P1Rasee!" argument is pretty much inapplicable.

     

  • by Cliff Stoll (242915) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:13PM (#29739831) Homepage

    A prime number can represent information which is forbidden to possess.
    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_prime [wikipedia.org]

    This goes back about a decade to the AACS encryption key controversy.

  • You don't (Score:3, Interesting)

    by langelgjm (860756) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:20PM (#29739897) Journal

    Not really. The argument about the AACS key was not that the number itself was copyrighted, but rather that the number was the means to circumvent the protection measures controlling access to a copyrighted work. Thus, distribution of the number was a violation of the DMCA.

    I'm not aware of anyone claiming that the number itself was copyrighted. Some people have suggested that line of argument in this case, but if TI really wanted to pursue this in court, they'd have to register the signing key with the copyright office (you have to do this prior to starting litigation). I'd really like to see them try to register a small number!

  • by Ranzear (1082021) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:47PM (#29740063)

    When you take most tests, the test takers take this in to account and force you to reset your calculators, deleting all of your programs that you could have stored your notes in. There is no way to check for a different OS

    Except this is easily circumvented by faking a memory reset in the calculator's own programming. There are even assembly-programmed 'calculator in a calculator' tricks through ZShell and other means to even make the calculator appear to have wiped itself clean and empty, even a fake and working 'memory' screen and an apparently complete working emulation of the base calculator (Xzibit would be proud). One little button combo or phrase and the calculator exits the fakeout to access whatever you like, and can even be put back to the emulation by a panic button.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by schon (31600) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:51PM (#29740095)

    Which code, precisely, is being protected?

    Breaking the checksum allows you to load alternate code on the calculator, so how exactly does it protect a copyrighted work?

  • by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:05PM (#29740195)
    You can code equations to your heart's content for the calculators, but IIRC the SAT people walk around and force you to clear the memory before the exam. The same rules probably apply to other tests, too. Of course, nothing is preventing someone from coding an app that makes it just look like it cleared the memory, because the test proctors make only a cursory inspection.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by athlon02 (201713) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:17PM (#29740275)

    I know you're kidding, but the sad thing is that this is probably just company lawyers trying to justify their jobs. Most TI engineers are likely to not care or love the hacks for the geek factor. TI ought to capitalize on this, not suppress it.

  • Re:Uh, why just TI? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zerocool^ (112121) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:55PM (#29740913) Homepage Journal

    How much money have you contributed to the EFF?

    Over $500 in the last 5 years.

    I have a bumper sticker. But, seriously, this is one of the only groups fighting the good fight.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by greenbird (859670) * on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @03:23AM (#29742059)

    the "checksum" (really a cryptographic key used for verifying signatures) is free for all to see

    Ummm...every book I read is free for me to see also once I bought the book. Same with the calculator.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @11:02AM (#29745877) Journal

    I think this has to do with TI maintaining their monopoly on the educational market. TI calculators are just about the only ones high-school math teachers support. Those teachers need to know that the calculators in their classrooms don't have extra programs that would help a kid cheat on a test. That's easy enough to check with the default TI OS. If the OS has been replaced, all bets are off.

  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Demonspawn (187073) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:52PM (#29747345)

    A long time ago I was doing consulting work and had the misfortune of being selected for jury duty. As I would not be fully-compensated for my time (I was my own employer), I wanted to get out of that case as fast as possible. I figured I wouldn't even get selected, so I'd just lose that one day.

    In Jury selection in my county, everyone is called into a holding area (cafeteria) and then groups of 30 or so are selected to sit in the courtroom for the jury selection. I was selected for a group, and then selected to sit in the jury box as one of the initial 12. I was going to be on the case.

    Initial arguments was the case was about a guy fighting Carrying concealed without a permit charges. The 12 of us in the box were asked individually "is there anything that would prevent us from ruling on this case in accordance to the laws?"

    I didn't have the time to sit on the case, so I replied "I'm a Constitutionalist and I know what Jury Nullification means."

    Oh, I was released alright; SO WAS EVERY PROSPECTIVE JUROR IN THE ROOM!!!!

    30 of us got out of jury duty because I said the magic words. The State is that afraid of people knowing they have power over them.

    The experience greatly influenced my view of government.

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