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Encryption Your Rights Online

EFF Warns TI Not To Harass Calculator Hobbyists 405

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:27PM (#29739457)

    someone show apple this news. :/

  • Uh, why just TI? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:29PM (#29739473)

    What about all the similar crap that goes on with other devices? iPhone, XBOX, Wii, NDS, plus loads others?! EFF, why aren't you defending user's rights there?

  • RPN (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:32PM (#29739497)

    Maybe they are afraid someone will write a decent RPN code for their calc?

  • by rgo ( 986711 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:34PM (#29739511)
    Although they are blocking exploits on every iPhone OS release, I didin't know that Apple was sending C&Ds to jailbrakers.
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:43PM (#29739565) Homepage Journal

    The product was not sold as a computer or development platform. It was sold as an end user product with documented functionality as described in the user's manual. Sure enough, when the hacks disable their machines TI will get the support call. Most slashdotters will probably flame me for this.

    I would be very surprised if a calculator hobbyist tried to get support for a modded device. And it is pretty easy for TI to say the warranty is void so STFU in that situation.

    How many ubuntu users make support calls to Microsoft?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:44PM (#29739573)

    How many people have to buy the overpriced calculators because they are required for an exam.... by required I mean "approved" for use on an exam. Think about it, a calculator costing $100 dollars? What year is it again? If you could program them yourselves suddenly all those "approved" calculators aren't so trustworthy not to solve the exam for students.... although honestly if a calculator can solve the exam then probably the exam isn't testing much...

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

    by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:46PM (#29739587)

    It's really hard for me to see how TI has a case under the DMCA at all. They're claiming the anti-circumvention clause, but it doesn't seem to apply here.

    The anti-circumvention clause makes it a violation to circumvent copy protection -- but what the hobbyists are circumventing in not copy protection, it's a validation key. Without the key, you can still read and copy the existing OS without a hitch. The key is needed to put you own intellectual property on the device, no to copy theirs.

    The key itself was never published by TI, and as far as I can tell was never registered with the copyright office, so copyright doesn't apply to that (even if it can apply to a number, which I doubt.)

    So where's the copyright violation? this looks like a criminal (bad faith) abuse of the DMCA to me.

  • Re:Perfectly valid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr ( 55051 ) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:46PM (#29739589)

    No. The DMCA reads "No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title".

    How does TI's signing system do that? The TI system just prevents people from loading a new OS onto devices that they already own. It doesn't protect access to work.

    The DMCA is a bad law, but it's not so broad as to say "everything to which a technology company with a market capitalization of over $10 million objects is henceforth illegal."

  • Streisand Effect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cosm ( 1072588 ) <thecosm3.gmail@com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:49PM (#29739621)
    When will companies realize that kicking and screaming about an issue they can't legitimatize will kick them in the testicles? Will T.I. really lose oodles of greenbacks because Joe geek likes to mod his calculator to play Mario or run Linux or watch porn (last item questionable). I highly doubt people hacking their calculators will cut into revenue, if anything it will increase it by bolstering interest in the extended possibilities of their products.
    Technophiles do not like to buy equipment they are legally castrated for modding or learning about the inner-workings.

    When profit is valued more than satisfaction of customers...oh wait..*status quo* *status quo*.

    The answer to the original question lies our government and legal system's ability to cease giving them the fucking pacifier every time they cry wolf.
  • by Bob_Who ( 926234 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:51PM (#29739633) Homepage Journal
    Thank you EFF for confronting the corporate greed machine where it concerns this electronic frontier. Now we need to find lawyers to confront them on every other issue where citizens and consumers are ripped off and enslaved by corporate monoliths and their shareholders. People come first. Not Corporate interests. Wake up America. We need better elected officials, apparently.
  • Re:Nonsense. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by milkmage ( 795746 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:54PM (#29739659)


    If I buy a TI or anything else, how is that STEALING from the people that made it. they asked for a fair price, I paid. what difference does it make to them what I use it for once they have their money.

    does that mean I can't install linux on my computer without being called a cyberterrorist?

  • by geminidomino ( 614729 ) * on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:55PM (#29739671) Journal

    I have an automotive screwdriver that was sold as an automotive screwdriver, not a...a... window...keeper-open...thing.

    If Sears/Craftsman has a problem with that, tough. Same concept.

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

    by Pulzar ( 81031 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:57PM (#29739687)

    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.

    That's why those types of things are done with fuses, so that's it's virtually impossible to re-enable features that have been fused out. It's certainly impossible to do purely in software.

  • by recoiledsnake ( 879048 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @08:59PM (#29739705)

    They're not. But facts wouldn't get in the way of some good old fashioned hyperbole, particularly if it involves whatever vendor you're choosing to hate.

    Wrong, the crap that Apple pulls is way worse than TI can dream of.

    Calculators are not advertised or thought of by most people as mobile computers. TI doesn't advertize "There's an App for that". It's sad that Apple forces developers to jump through hoops just to get an App proved and bans any political or other useful Apps under the name of duplicate functionality. Apple also has a forced developer tax of 30% and hence prohibits downloads from the developer's website. The alternative is to jailbreak, but it breaks when updated and is not for casual users. Apple even says that the iPhone and iPod touch can be considered as netbooks(which are otherwise normal computers without the App store bullshit).

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

    by palegray.net ( 1195047 ) <philip DOT paradis AT palegray DOT net> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:00PM (#29739719) Homepage Journal
    I think you missed the sarcasm in the GP.
  • by Myria ( 562655 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:01PM (#29739721)

    The numbers they are distributing are the prime factors of the RSA key used by the calculators. The factors were determined by a general number field sieve [wikipedia.org] calculation; this was effective because the keys are only 512 bits long.

    The public key itself - the modulus - might be subject to copyright. However, the prime factors were never copied from TI - they were mathematically determined from the modulus. Attacking them because they distribute numbers mathematically derived from a copyrighted number is new legal territory.

    If numbers derived from a calculation on a copyrightable number are themselves "derivative works" in the copyright sense, it would cause far-reaching problems well beyond calculators. For one thing, it would be illegal to distribute SHA-1 hashes of copyrighted material without permission.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:03PM (#29739753)

    Also it is a lot harder make claims about DRM and piracy and such when you are dealing with a calculator. So this legal fight would be easier to win than eg vs Nintendo who can say "if we don't do it we will lose X amount of money." TI can't exactly claim that they are losing money from this because they don't sell any kind of software add ons for their calculator (afaik.)

  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:09PM (#29739803) Journal

    Well, stick around some more, because it's not what the DMCA is designed to prevent.

    As others have pointed out, you can only invoke the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA if the technological protection measures are controlling access to a copyrighted work. Simply bypassing a measure alone is not a violation of the DMCA.

    In this case, they obtained keys that allow them to install custom software on the device. Where that software comes from may be a copyright issue, but that is not relevant to the overall matter of whether obtaining and using the keys is a violation of the DMCA. These keys control whether the hardware accepts given software; rather than controlling access to copyrighted software, the keys, in a manner of speaking, control the software's access to the hardware, so it's not a matter for the DMCA.

  • Re:Perfectly valid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:18PM (#29739875)
    Because in the case of direct tv, you're paying for the service, not the hardware. If i go down to Best Buy and shell out $200 or whatever for a new TI-89 Titanium (my classic TI-89 is starting to look somewhat stayed...), then I never need anything from TI again. I take that thing, and I'm done. No real need to plug it into anything; TI doesn't beam the CAS down via CDMA wireless signal like some sort of Kindle thing.

    Basically, with the calculator, the hardware itself is the FINAL PURCHASE, whereas with DirectTV, you're basically renting the hardware as a means to access a service, which is what you're actually paying for in the end. Cheating on what you're paying for as far as channels go is clearly wrong. Modifying a piece of hardware that once bought never needs to have any interaction with the mother company again is completely different.
  • by matzahboy ( 1656011 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:19PM (#29739885)
    Although a Ti-83 can definitely be enhanced by a custom OS, the usefulness of a Ti-83 would greatly decrease for students if custom OS's existed. On many standardized tests, including the SATs and ACTs, the tests specify which calculators are permitted for the test. They have a very specific list, based on which ones they think are not too powerful and would give an unfair advantage to a test taker. All ti-83's are allowed on either test for example. But if the makers of the test knew that people could have ti-83's that had undocumented, unfair functions (such as symbolic algebraic solving as in the ti-89), the test makers would most likely disallow these calculators. Why do you think TI still sells the Ti-83 plus, a calculator created in 1999? Certainly hardware abilities and processor speeds have greatly increased in the last 10 years. The reason is that test makers will not accept calculators with very powerful abilities. They want the student to solve the problem and not the calculator. When browsing calculators at education.ti.com, each calculator has a page called "exam acceptance" (ex. http://education.ti.com/educationportal/sites/US/productDetail/us_ti83p.html?bid=2 [ti.com]). That is because TI sells a large number of its calculators to students. The custom OS's could greatly hurt TI's reputation in the eyes of its biggest supporters: the test makers.
  • by muffen ( 321442 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:19PM (#29739887)

    What about all the similar crap that goes on with other devices? iPhone, XBOX, Wii, NDS, plus loads others?! EFF, why aren't you defending user's rights there?

    Hacking or modding any of the consoles you listed will allow you to run copied games. You can see why the companies making the console (and apart from Wii selling the consoles at a loss) doesn't like the modding. However, you can't really claim that you are selling a TI calculator at a loss hoping to make the additional money from software sales, nor can you really claim that hacking the calculator makes you loose any money.

    Say what you will about homebrews etc, I think the vast majority who has a chipped Wii is using it to play copied games. I don't think the vast majority of TI calculator owners use it to pirate anything.

  • by maillemaker ( 924053 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:27PM (#29739947)

    The "legal list of allowable calculators" is precisely why the scientific calculator development is pretty much stagnant. I have an HP50G but it is basically a repackaged HP48 with a marginally better screen. But even the 48G was not allowed in the last math class I took that allowed calculators.

    I started using an HP28S in college back in 1988. Back then, many teachers did not know what the calculators were capable of. Of course, I had one professor who did, and in fact LOVED them, and so made the tests that much harder to be used in conjunction with said devices.

    Anyway my point is the calculator manufacturers are definitely in a pickle. They can't make their calculators too good, or their primary market - college students - can't use them.

    If people can hack the OS of "approved" calculators, you can, as you note, basically sneak in anything in what appears to be a normal calculator.

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

    by werewolf1031 ( 869837 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:28PM (#29739951)
    "An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so"
    ~some skinny bald pacifist guy...

    Point being, of course, that just because something is codified into law, doesn't necessarily make it right.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @09:37PM (#29740009)

    > The DMCA is a bad law, but it's not so broad as to say "everything to which a technology company with a market capitalization of over $10 million objects is henceforth illegal."

    Don't worry. They plan to fix that whenever they get the chance...

  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:08PM (#29740215)

    The custom OS's could greatly hurt TI's reputation in the eyes of its biggest supporters: the test makers.

    Well cry me a river, why is that the problem of hardware hackers who have already PAID for their devices? If we had a law against every activity which might damage somebody else's business model then we would be living in a police state already. If the test makers don't want "powerful calculators" used on their exams then why not simply ban all calculators? If they are interested in testing mathematical knowledge rather than rote arithmetic or button pressing ability then why not simply design the test along those lines in the first place and enforce the suggested ban against electronic assistance? Technology is a moving target which will change over time; attempting to fix it in place by law, for whatever reason, is both destructive and counter-productive.

  • Re:Perfectly valid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Arker ( 91948 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:20PM (#29740297) Homepage

    Yes, Liberty is a very slippery slope. This is why the enemies of liberty try to avoid any compromise with it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @10:30PM (#29740365)

    There is nothing special about any of the numbers in question here. They were randomly generated, and thus, unlike your giant .avi number, they contain no creative work, hence (as I understand it) they are uncopyrightable.

    If TI had, for instance, chosen a pair of prime numbers which, when written in base 26, spelled out a poem, then there would be a copyright argument to be made.

  • by matzahboy ( 1656011 ) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:09PM (#29740649)
    I wasn't saying that it was against the law. In fact, I disagree with TI's use of DMCA takedown notices. However, I said that I understood why TI wanted to not allow custom OS's. There are certain (though very few) technology devices that can be fundamentally hurt by customization.
  • by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:11AM (#29741017)
    Bye-bye sales for that line of calculators.


    TI calculators are $5 of hardware sold for $100 because of preferential (bought and paid for) treatment given by schools. They follow the same disgusting model that textbook publishers use; it hurts students, and it's kept calculator tech advancement practically stagnant.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:27AM (#29741103)
    The calculators should be issued by the test makers. It's their test and their responsibility. These exams are already very expensive. Such a thing wouldn't significantly change the cost of the exam.
  • by ProfessionalCookie ( 673314 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:32AM (#29741131) Journal
    Gross! I was a die hard Casio user in a sea of TIness. I wouldn't have survived the learning curve of a TI calculator during a test.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @03:55AM (#29741917)

    Actually, they do. I have bought a TI calculator recently and they are saying there is an app for everything. God, what happened to the people. 15 years ago, more or less the same calculator was called a "programmable calculator". 15 years ago people were writing their own programs in TI-BASIC, now these programs are being called "apps" and they try to set up some kind of an app-store. Did people become to dumb to program on their own?

  • Re:Perfectly valid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:21AM (#29742333)
    If you install Linux on your PC when it came with Windows, thus giving yourself a full development environment, when the PC itself didn't come with that software capability in the first place, then that's the same according to your rebuttal.

    Installing a new OS on your TI or on your computer is more like buying the DirectTV dish then re-purposing it as part of some amateur radio operation, not unencrypting channels in DTV's data stream.
  • Ahem! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pandrijeczko ( 588093 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @06:36AM (#29742651)

    in the best tradition of American innovation.

    Sir Frank Whittle (British) and Dr. Hans Von Ohain (German) - indepently invented the jet engine.
    Sir Alexander Fleming (Scottish - discovered penicillin.
    Leonardo da Vinci (Italian) - inventor, artist, mathematician, painter, etc. etc. ... ...

    I fully support what the EFF do but innovation is not simply limited to America - can I suggest in future they use the adjective "human", rather than "American", in similar statements? Otherwise, they're just affirming the stereotype that many of we non-US residents have, namely that Americans have no interest in the world outside their own shores.

  • by jotaeleemeese ( 303437 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @07:46AM (#29742909) Homepage Journal

    "The public key itself - the modulus - might be subject to copyright. "

    If it is a *public* key it is meant to be copied.

    In any case a key is just a number, how the heck can you copyright a single number in isolation?

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

    by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @09:53AM (#29743989)

    God I hate this sort of statement.

    While the guys making hacks obviously know a bit about the technology as they managed to get something working.

    That in no way makes them qualified software engineers or developers.

    I regularly turn out a 'hack' in a weekend, then spend a month getting it production ready, testing it, trying everything I can think of to break it, then throwing every automated test (based on stuff our customers have done) at it, then double checking documentation, and plenty of other stuff that I don't have on the top of my head at the moment.

    This is something the FOSS supporters and hackers of the world don't get, the 'writing the first draft of the software' part is the easy part, and its also puts you at about the 5 to 10% complete stage. Documentation, Quality Assurance and other bits of the presentation are actually far more important to the customer 9 times out of 10.

    Making a hack is generally the easiest part of the entire development process, and just because you can make one, doesn't mean you're a developer or engineer, stop thinking it does. Its only a small part of the job.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @10:14AM (#29744255)

    Jesus christ will you people shut the fuck up about the iPhone.

    'Apple Tax', 'Stealing from the developers', 'Monopoly'

    Yea, what the fuck ever, as an iPhone developer myself, let me tell you how much I care ... not a damn bit.

    Rather than spending your time whining about how apple sucks and limits you as a developer, get off your lazy fucking ass, write the app, pay the $100, put it on the app store and make your $100 back in a week, LITERALLY.

    The app store is a fucking cash cow for developers with even half a clue. Sorry you have to pay them a cut of the profits and they have to approve you, but heres another hint, all 10 people that find your website and your app and buy it from you don't compare to the thousands of people who will come across your app when its on the app store, even as an exteremely low ranking app.

    No normal user gives a fuck about jailbreaking. What can you do with a jailbreak? Run apps in the background, thats about it, well anyone who has used an iPhone as a development platform will tell you just how much that sucks the battery out of the device. A 3 day charge turns into an 8 hour charge. Users REALLY DON'T WANT YOUR SHITTY BACKGROUND APP JUST TO GET FACEBOOK IMS!

    REALLY, they don't

    You arent required to buy an iPhone. You aren't required to use an iPhone. You aren't required to develop for an iPhone. YOU in particular aren't even smart enough to realize WHY you would want to do any of that, you're just too busy worried about how Apple controls other peoples lives.

    Everyone who owns an iPhone is generally pretty damn happy with them. The only people that talk like this that I've come across are just jealous for one reason or another of apples success or have iPhone envy. Yes, thats all it is. EVERYONE already knows about all the 'Bad Stuff' (tm) that Apple does with the iPhone, no one cares, except you douche bags who are STILL bringing it up.

    Heres the party line:

    Apple sucks, DRM, Lockdown, Apple Tax, carrier lockin (insert more rambling bullshit sounding like the adults from Peanuts), our FOSS software is better and is FREE!

        Who gives a shit about your half complete crapware, Apples device and software is Cool, makes sense for people who just pick it up without a manual, and 'just works'.

    Just Works means that while people are dicking with downloads, dependancies and other bullshit to get your shitty software to work, a touch or two on the App store and a dollar out of their pocket and their good to go.

    Spend less of your time being a retarded jealous whining bitch.

    Spend more of your time making something superior, then Apples practices will not matter.

    You, and everyone like you, sounds just like the RIAA.

    We suck, no one wants to buy our stuff, lets make up some bullshit and attack everyone else, including our customers in order to sell more of our crapware!

    You keep being a whiney bitch with 0 market share, and the rest of us will continue to make a living off of Apples horrible horrible HORRIBLE products that people LOVE to buy.

    Ever wonder if your perspective on the world is wrong?

    I rant, sorry, retards do it to me.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @11:30AM (#29745373)

    Only one problem with that. You ever seen how people abuse things that they are borrowing even for a short time? Plus the calculators would have to be lugged from test site to test site giving even more room for them to be broken.

    Calculators are cheap. Just buy more.

    And what happens to the person who can't get a calculator because one got broken on the trip to the test site?

    Bring extras or refund the test taker's money. It's not hard.

    Truly, the test makers should just go back to not allowing programmable graphing calculators and allow nothing better than a scientific calculator. That is all a student should need for taking a test.

    And how do they know that a student hasn't modded their calculator to be either "programmable" or a communication device? This whole affair illustrates a flaw with the standardized tests. Namely, that they're more interested in reducing liability (and a rather weak liability at that) than in producing a reliable and trustworthy test.

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

    by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @11:33AM (#29745435)

    But a checksum, unlike a book, is not a creative work. It's a mathematical result. Mathematical facts cannot be copyrighted.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan