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Court Ruling Opens Door to More Competition in After-Market Parts

Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004
Kenneth DeGraff, CU, 202-462-6262
Deirdre Mulligan, Samuelson Clinic, 510-642-0499
Jason Schultz, EFF, 415-436-9333

Court Ruling Opens Door to More Competition in After-Market Parts
Court Rules Copyright Law Cannot be Used to Stifle Competition for Garage Door Openers

(Washington, D.C.) – A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling that allows the marketing of “universal” remote controls for garage door openers, an important decision that helps pave the way for competition and lower prices in the aftermarket and replacement parts arena.
“It’s important to have competition for replacement parts such as remote garage door controls because it will lead to lower prices and better products,” said Kenneth DeGraff, policy advocate for Consumers Union. “Allowing one company to control those markets and the prices they charge simply hurts consumers.”
The Chamberlain Group, Inc., filed a lawsuit against Skylink for distributing the remotes, claiming that their ability to inter-operate with Chamberlain’s garage door opener violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In April, Consumers Union filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in the case, arguing that enforcement of the DMCA in this context would preclude competition among important aftermarket products.
The DMCA was passed in 1998 to stop mass copyright infringement on the Internet, but some companies have invoked its controversial “anti-circumvention” clause to stave off competition. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic co-authored the Consumers Union brief.
“This lawsuit sought to stifle competition by misusing the federal law,” said Deirdre Mulligan of the Samuelson Clinic. “Congress warned of such abuses, and we’re pleased that the Court rejected this view to avoid harming consumers.”
In its decision, the appeals court noted if the court adopted Chamberlain’s interpretation of the copyright law, it would threaten many legitimate uses of software within electronic and computer products – something the law aims to protect.
“When consumers buy a garage door opener, they have the right to use whatever remote they want with it, even one from another company,” said Jason Schultz, EFF staff attorney and a co-author of the brief. “The choice shouldn’t be buy from one company or no company.”
To read the court’s decision, click here