U.S. Border Seizures of DMCA Circumvention Devices Surges

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New data released by Homeland Security shows that U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized significantly more DMCA circumvention devices in 2017. The seizures, which includes mod chips for gaming consoles, increased 324% compared to the year before, although the actual number remains fairly low.

In the United States, citizens are generally prohibited from tampering with DRM and other technological protection measures.

This means that Blu-ray rippers are not allowed, nor are mod chips for gaming consoles, and some pirate streaming boxes could fall into this category as well.

Despite possible sanctions, there are plenty of manufacturers who ship these devices to the US, often to individual consumers. To arrive at their destination, however, they first have to pass the border control.

Not all make it to their final destination. A new report released by Homeland Security shows that the number of “intellectual property” related seizures increased by 8%, from 31,560 in 2016 to 34,143 a year later.

The vast majority of these seized items are traditional counterfeit goods. This includes fake brand clothing, shoes, replica watches, toys, as well as consumer electronics.

What caught our eye, however, is a sharp increase in “circumvention devices” that were found to violate the DMCA. Last year, the number of these seized items U.S. Customs and Border Protection increased by 324%.

“CBP seized 297 shipments of circumvention devices for violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a 324 percent increase from 70 such seizures in FY 2016,” the report reads.

While the relative increase is quite dramatic, the absolute numbers are perhaps not as impressive, with less than one seized device per day. The report gives no explanation for the surge, nor is there an estimate of how many devices slip through.

What we did notice is that the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) recently framed streaming boxes as possible circumvention tools. The strong enforcement focus of rightsholders on these devices may have been communicated to border patrols as well.

When we previously reached out to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to find out more about what type of circumvention devices are seized under the DMCA, a spokesperson provided us with the following definition.

“[P]roducts, devices, components, or parts thereof that are primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner, and have only limited commercially significant purposes or uses other than to circumvent such protection measures.”

TorrentFreak reached out to CBP again this week to ask if streaming boxes are seen as circumvention devices, but at the time of writing, we have yet to receive a response.

In a press release commenting on the news, CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said that his organization is happy with last year’s results.

“The theft of intellectual property and trade in counterfeit and pirated goods causes harm to an innovation-based economy by threatening the competitiveness of businesses and the livelihoods of workers,” McAleenan said.

“Another record-breaking year of IPR seizures highlights the vigilance of CBP and ICE personnel in preventing counterfeit goods from entering our stream of commerce and their dedication to protecting the American people,” he added.

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