Chamberlain v. Skylink in Federal Circuit
In a case of first impression, the Federal Circuit rejected a consumer manufacturer of garage door openers’ efforts to employ a controversial section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the anti-circumvention provisions (1201), to distort the market by employing computer code to lock-in consumers and lock-out aftermarket competition. The DMCA was passed in 1998 to stop mass copyright infringement on the Internet, but some companies have gone beyond this purpose and invoked its controversial “anti-circumvention” provisions to stifle competition.
The Samuelson Clinic filed a brief April 7, 2004 on behalf of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports Magazine, asking a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., to uphold a lower-court ruling that permits Skylink Technologies Inc. to continue selling “universal” remote controls for garage door openers. The Chamberlain Group Inc. filed a lawsuit against Skylink for distributing the remotes, claiming that their ability to interoperate with Chamberlain’s garage door opener violated the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). “Competition in aftermarket and replacement parts such as remote controls drives lower prices and better products,” said Chris Murray, an attorney for Consumers Union. “Allowing one company to control those markets hurts consumers and the health of our economy.”
The Chamberlain Group has argued that Skylink violated the DMCA when developing garage door opener technology that interoperates with Chamberlain’s products. In November 2003 a district court in Chicago ruled that the DMCA does not prevent competing companies from selling replacement controls and parts for garage door openers. In November 2003, the International Trade Commission issued a similar ruling. The appeal concerns only the ruling of the Chicago district court. The Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both authored the brief on behalf of Consumers Union. Jennifer Urban of the Samuelson Clinic, the lead attorney for Consumers Union in the Skylink cases, said, “Chamberlain’s law suit seeks to stifle competition by misusing the DMCA. Congress warned of such abuses and directed that the statute be read narrowly to avoid harming consumers.”