Tech

Casio Used a Copyright Claim to Wipe This Hacker’s Calculator Mod Off the Internet

After a DMCA takedown request, Github and YouTube removed this calculator hack from the web.
27 May 2020, 7:00am
A Casio calculator.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Electronics manufacturer Casio hit a hacker-hobbyist who converted an old scientific calculator to a Wifi-enabled smart device with a DMCA takedown notice, claiming that he copied the company’s code to do so.

The maker, who goes by Neutrino on his YouTube channel, outfitted a hand-me-down Casio FX-991MS calculator—a model first introduced in the early 2000s—with a user interface controlled by placing magnets near a secret display, according to Hackaday. It also featured a simple chat program for communicating with other devices over Wi-Fi. By basically any measure, this is a very cool hobbyist project that finds new uses for old tech, but Casio, rather than embracing this novel tinkering decided to punish it with a copyright takedown request.

"Since we were in lockdown I wanted to do something really fun, which can keep me occupied for a week or two,” Neutrino told Torrent Freak. “I did not have many components to work with so using this calculator was not a problem, because it was roughly 5+ years old and it was given by my uncle.”

The takedown notice, available in full here, claims that the code in the repository contained proprietary information. "The hosted content is a direct, literal copy of our client’s work," the claim, filed by third-party anti-counterfeiting firm REACT on behalf of Casio, states.

Github took the repository down, and the video of the build on YouTube is also down due to a copyright claim.

Neutrino told Torrent Freak that he'd filed a DMCA counter-notice with Github to try to get the repository back up.

“They accuse me of using copyrighted source code in order to modify CASIO’s copyrighted program. But my code has nothing to do with it,” he said, claiming that his code was written from scratch as explained in the now-removed readme file in the repository.

“They also allegedly accuse me by stating that ‘The entire repository is infringing’, but in reality whatever the original content they pointed out has nothing to do with my code," he said.

Both Hackaday and Gizmodo call the calculator hack a potential exam-cheating device, but Neutrino told Torrent Freak that he didn't intend it to be used that way—he just wanted to inspire people to hack and experiment on old devices like that calculator.

When used properly, DMCA takedown notices can help creators protect their content online from people trying to steal their work. But when a 74-year-old multi-billion dollar tech corporation uses copyright claims against someone remixing their product into something new, and arguably cooler, it could discourage makers from posting their works open-source in the future.

"Such legal actions by tech companies can discourage creativity and innovativeness by upcoming developers," online free speech organization Reclaim the Net wrote about the claim. "No one wants to share their ideas and get a lawsuit as a reward."