TI, the DMCA, and the Calculator Programming Community
Published by KermMartian 14 years, 8 months ago (2009-10-30T13:14:15+00:00) | Discuss this article

We haven't really discussed this ongoing situation here at Cemetech, but unless you've been living in a hole for the last few months and/or don't keep up with TI community news, there's an ongoing battle between our favorite technology giant and the community about the keys used to sign the TI-OS. As many of you know, we've long been able to sign our own Apps using the 0104 key, but that was not always the case. Back in the day you had to submit Apps to TI, who would approve (or disapprove) and then sign your Apps for distribution. The TI-OS, however, is signed by a similar key, a mathematical combination of two very large prime numbers. To date, the community has had to use various tricks and hacks in order to trick the calculator into accepting an unsigned OS, but recently, the situation changed. On July 31st, 2009, ticalc.org reported that Benjamin Moody, a member of United TI and other sites, had posted the factorization of the TI-83+ OS key, which would allow programmers to sign their own OSes. Flush with excitement, members of the community quickly set up an initiative to factor the remaining calculator keys via distributed computing.

Needless to say, TI was not happy, and responded swiftly and vengefully. A week after the last key was factored, TI started sending DMCA takedown notices to UnitedTI, Benjamin Moody, Brandon Wilson, and many others who either worked on the key-cracking project or hosted the results on their websites. The keys appeared on Wikileaks following the takedown notices, and on October 13th, ticalc.org once again reported that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization that fights for the rights of free/open-source software authors and reverse-engineers, had taken up the banner for the community. They took over legal defense for the interested parties, issued a press release warning TI against issuing improper DMCA takedown notices, and stated that pending subsequent developments, the keys would be reposted on October 26th, 2009.

The Internet always loves a story of David vs. corporate Goliath, so soon stories on the topic appeared at Slashdot, Boing Boing, CNet, Ars Technica, and innumerable websites and blogs around the internet. Two days later, CNet then posted another article addressing the TI calculator hacking and programming community, and what drives us to do what we do; the IEEE Spectrum, the publication of the largest associated of Electrical Engineers, has written a similar article criticizing TI and supporting the community's efforts. This morning, ticalc.org posted the latest update, that since TI has not addressed the EFF's ultimatum regarding October 26th, and in fact continues to spam websites and universities with improper takedown notices, that the original keys have been restored to their original websites.

So what do you think? Even though the TI-OS is not covered as encrypted content under the DMCA, is the community wrong to want to modify the software on hardware that they own? Is this incident an example of the problems with the DMCA or an argument towards why the DMCA is important? What should the key-crackers and posters do?