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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pwning your life

by Nancy Sims, MTTLR Blog editor
"Void your warranty, violate a user agreement, fry a circuit, blow a fuse, poke your eye out..."
So exhorts a t-shirt on sale from Make magazine. They also sell shirts with slogans like "If you can't open it, you don't own it", and "Permission to play". Make is not remotely a unique phenomenon - Instructables, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, and a host of other sites provide how-tos and what-ifs for the growing population of hardware modders and hackers. Make's sister publication, Craft, and sites like Etsy, and Craft Mafia, demonstrate that the sensibility isn't limited purely to hardware. It's remix culture applied to real-world, physical objects, and it's a growing phenomenon.

Hacking, remixing, modifying - whatever you call it, messing with technology, even physical objects you own, raises a host of legal issues. First of all, just opening the case of most tech objects voids the warranty. It may also void other user agreements, and as more of the technology in our daily lives requires ongoing relationships with service providers, that can be a real problem. Physical or software hacks may also violate anti-hacking laws in various jurisdictions.

The DMCA's Anti-Circumvention provisions may open tech remixers to civil or criminal liability if they bypass "access control devices" or "technological protection measures" to explore or modify their devices. While there is currently an administrative exception that allows individuals to modify cellphones to ensure compatibility with various service providers, the exception doesn't cover telling other people how to make the same modifications. Similar worries about the "no telling people how to circumvent, either" provisions delayed publication of the book "Hacking the XBox".

And yet, the community of hackers and modders continues to expand. The revolutionary, compelling, or just plain entertaining products that the maker/crafter/modder cultures produce, make it difficult to see how anyone could want to rein them in. A (very) few highlights:
To get a sense of the philosophies/worldviews of makers, hackers, crafters, and modders, take a look at:
Explore the history of hacking:
So, what do you think? What are your favorite hacks and mods? What legal issues do you see?

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2 Comments:

Blogger tew said...

Richard Stallman claims to have gotten the Free Software movement started because he was having trouble with his hardware.

June 16, 2008 at 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Wait - you mean it wasn't because he needed another outlet for his awesome ninjitsu?

June 16, 2008 at 4:31 PM  

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