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An Open-and-Shut Copyright Case

A federal appeals court rules that a company's garage door opener doesn't violate a law meant to protect intellectual property.

September 02, 2004|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

The case is closed -- and now your garage door can be, too.

A federal appeals court in Washington has ruled that it's OK for Skylink Group to sell its universal garage door openers, thwarting an effort by rival Chamberlain Group.

Chamberlain had sued Skylink under, of all things, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The act was meant to restrain Internet piracy by making it illegal to break the digital locks that protect a piece of intellectual property -- an electronic book, say, or a CD or DVD.

But since the law was enacted, makers of prosaic products such as door openers and printer ink cartridges have cited it in suing competitors for copyright infringement.

In this case, Skylink was accused of improperly using digital security software code created by Chamberlain.

"I think the court was saying that companies can't hide under the DMCA to prevent competition," asserted Kenneth DeGraff, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing Chamberlain.

"As a result, consumers will benefit from aftermarket products reaching the market with lower prices and greater innovation," DeGraff said.

Neither Skylink nor Chamberlain officials could be reached for comment.

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