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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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August 03, 2004

Hatch's Hit List #18 - Universal Turing Machine

Posted by Ernest Miller

What is Hatch's Hit List? Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act) in the Senate. The bill would make it illegal to "intentionally induce" copyright infringement, but is worded so broadly that it would have all sorts of unintended consequences, one of which is to severely limit, cripple or kill innovation in many different fields. Hatch's Hit List is a daily exploration of some of the technologies and fields that the bill would likely affect. See also, Introducing Hatch's Hit List and the Hatch's Hit List Archives. Send list suggestions to ernest.miller 8T

Today on Hatch's Hit List: Universal Turing Machine

I just read about this new technology, a Universal Turing Machine, and although I'm not well-versed in the complex mathematics of it all, I'm pretty sure that any single Universal Turing Machine can simulate any Turing Machine. According to the Alan Turing Scrapbook:

A Universal machine is a Turing machine with the property of being able to read the description of any other Turing machine, and to carry out what that other Turing machine would have done. It is not at all obvious that such a machine, a machine capable of performing any definite method, could exist. Intuitively one might think that tasks of greater and greater complexity would need machines of greater and greater complexity. They do not: it is sufficient to have a specific, limited, degree of complexity, and then greater amounts of storage capacity for more laborious tasks. Turing gave an exact description of such a Universal machine in his paper (though with a few bugs).
Clearly, these "Universal" Turing Machines need legal controls, such as the INDUCE Act, in order that they not be abused for copyright infringement by those who would simulate copyrighted descriptions of other Turing machines.

Turing machines seem pretty simple, so I can't imagine why someone would need a "universal" one. Why not just build more of the single-purpose Turing machines? The only possible use I can see for a "universal" Turing machine is to copy what another copyrighted Turing machine does. If you give people a Universal Turing Machine, they will inevitably be induced to infringe copyrights with it. Any "reasonable person" can see that UTMs are, in reality, the most perfect copyright infringement devices ever invented.

Clearly, such infringement is what this Alan Turing fellow had in mind. After all, he was a hacker. One of the very first uses of his Turing machines was to circumvent DRM access controls! He, personally, spent many years of his life trying to read copyrighted material that didn't belong to him. Without a doubt, he is one of the "bad actors" that Sen. Hatch has in mind as the target of this bill.

Honestly, if these "Universal Turing Machines" become common, the copyright industry is sure to be destroyed!

Want to know more about the INDUCE Act?
Please see LawMeme's well-organized index to everything I've written on the topic, including Hatch's Hit List: The LawMeme Reader's Guide to Ernie Miller's Guide to the INDUCE Act.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Hatch's Hit List | INDUCE Act


1. Joe Gratz on August 3, 2004 04:38 PM writes...

Well played. (This may leave non-geek-types a bit confused.)

This reminds me of Jessica Litman's classic "Imagine the grievous damage to the U.S. fashion industry if anyone could just copy clothing designs at will, with no copyright infringement liability. Or if chefs didn't have rights in the recipes to their creations. Industires we value would surely go under."

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2. Carl Witty on August 3, 2004 05:52 PM writes...

Was Turing actually trying to read copyrighted material? (Were copyright formalities required under the then-current laws, and if so, were proper copyright notices applied to his material?)

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3. Ezra Ball on August 5, 2004 06:16 PM writes...

Turing wasn't trying to read copyrighted material. He was part of the British effort to crack German communications encrypted using the Enigma machine. It's that encryption that I think this tongue-in-cheek "DRM" refers to.

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4. Carl Witty on August 5, 2004 11:41 PM writes...

Yes, I know. But just because a message is an intercepted enemy military communication doesn't mean it's not copyrighted (it doesn't mean it is copyrighted, either; hence my (tongue-in-cheek) question).

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5. Bored Huge Krill on August 12, 2004 11:14 PM writes...


of course, whether the material was copyrighted or not isn't the point. The point is that Turing's Colossus machine *could* have been used for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure which effectively controlled access to a copyrighted work. As such, it was clearly an evil creation and should never have been built.

If only people had the foresight back then to stop all of this nonsense, we could have stopped all this infringement-inducing, value-destroying, "Internet" stuff before it ever got off the ground.

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