TI sends a cease and desist letter to calculator hackers

Calculator hobbyists who blogged about the modification of the software included on Texas Instruments (TI) programmable calculators have been sent letters from TI demanding they remove the material. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who campaign for digital rights, privacy, and freedom of speech responded to TI in a letter yesterday.

According to a press release by the EFF, the hobbyists and researchers reverse-engineered the signature check that prevents unapproved operating systems from being loaded on to TI programmable graph calculators, allowing modifications to be made which could add functionality to the calculator in question: the TI 83 Plus calculator.

TI, who make their calculator software freely available online, as well as other applications for the calculator, such as the "Guess My Coefficient" and "Decimal Defender" applications, demanded that the links to the keys, and the discussion with it, were removed, making references to the anti-circumvention parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

However, Jennifer Granick, Civil Liberties Director from the EFF, said "This is not about copyright infringement. This is about running your own software on your own device -- a calculator you legally bought."

"Yet TI still issued empty legal threats in an attempt to shut down discussion of this legitimate tinkering. Hobbyists are taking their own tools and making them better, in the best tradition of American innovation."

Those interested can find the letter the EFF sent to TI here.

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27 Comments

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Seems to me they're simply trying to protect their brands and models for which many are allowed or disallowed depending on their features for many standardized tests. If it becomes too popular to tweak and add or remove features, they put themselves at risk. I highly doubt this is just an "evil corporation" thing.

thornz0 said,
Seems to me they're simply trying to protect their brands and models for which many are allowed or disallowed depending on their features for many standardized tests. If it becomes too popular to tweak and add or remove features, they put themselves at risk. I highly doubt this is just an "evil corporation" thing.

Thats a good point. I think you can only use up to a TI86 for the ACTs. TI89s are disallowed because you can save notes on it. Frankly, if you are relying on notes saved on a TI89 then you probably won't be doing very well...

Kind of ... the TI-89 does a lot more than just allow notes. It does things they're asking YOU to do on the test (such as factoring an equation or simplifying an equation). Thankfully my professors always allowed me to use it... though I tried to stay away from letting the calculator do all the work and acing the tests (acing tests didn't happen, therefore lol).

I think TI's actually in the right on this -- you don't want your product being hacked to use something else that's been the industry standard for test taking for years. If standardized testing administrators find out there's a new OS, they'll ban the TI-83. Not good for the consumer OR the company.

Guys this has nothing to do with the games and apps you have been using before on this calculator (i.e. Mirage OS and tetris). This has to do with modifying the bootloader of the calculator and the underlying OS, completely different level.

I think TI should be encouraging innovation with their products. How does fighting against it help them at all? Maybe it adds features that they want only available in their higher end calculators or something...

I loved my ti89 in college, but now that I have a job I find little use for it except for basic arithmetic with a pretty screen. Anything beyond that I use MathCAD for.

I had an original ti85 and remember modifying the crap out of it back in '95. Why are they making such a deal about it now after all these years?

I'm thinking they've seen the success of the AppStore and thought they could make some money out of selling it.

M. Seth said,
I had an original ti85 and remember modifying the crap out of it back in '95. Why are they making such a deal about it now after all these years?

Because no one had the ability to completely replace the OS on the calculator until now.

Man this brings back memories.
Mirage OS and Tetris on my TI-83 Silver Edition while in Calc class in high school

This has been going on for years, I was using a custom OS and playing games on that thing 10 years ago. Yet they are just sending a letter now? lol.

WICKO said,
This has been going on for years, I was using a custom OS and playing games on that thing 10 years ago. Yet they are just sending a letter now? lol.


They probably got a new CEO or something and that guy said hey wait a minute....

neufuse said,
They probably got a new CEO or something and that guy said hey wait a minute....

Haha, I guess so. I'm just surprised that the TI-83Plus is so popular. I guess it doesn't make sense for schools to continually buy new calculators when they all do exactly what they need.

WICKO said,
This has been going on for years, I was using a custom OS and playing games on that thing 10 years ago. Yet they are just sending a letter now? lol.

No you weren't. Underneath those "Custom OS"s, you were still running TI's firmware and TI's operating system. Now that the keys have been broken, every last bit can be replaced in the firmware with custom code, making the calculator potentially dangerous in standardized testing environments.

MioTheGreat said,
No you weren't. Underneath those "Custom OS"s, you were still running TI's firmware and TI's operating system. Now that the keys have been broken, every last bit can be replaced in the firmware with custom code, making the calculator potentially dangerous in standardized testing environments.


Ahhhh.... Okay, now I see where the problem lies. That's very interesting.

omg they're still have the ti-83? damn they had that when i was in high school back in 94, figured they'd be up to ti-120 or something now.

macrosslover said,
omg they're still have the ti-83? damn they had that when i was in high school back in 94, figured they'd be up to ti-120 or something now.


Don't fix what isn't broke? Heck they still sell calculators they designed in the 80's just slightly redesigned packadge wise... TI's one of the companys left from the old way of thinking that if something works, dont introduce bugs into it later... keep that model and make a new model but keep selling the older familiar one that you know works

There's the TI-84, and TI-84+, then I believe the replacement for them now is the Ti-Nspire... which is pretty awesome btw (although you can change it to TI-84 mode by swapping keypads to one that looks exactly like the TI-84's).

Many exams still only allow the 83/84 calculators, that's why it's still available.

I do have a TI89 Titanium, and I have to say, it was well worth the extra money. It can solve for X, factor a problem for me, or just about anything I want.

macrosslover said,
omg they're still have the ti-83? damn they had that when i was in high school back in 94, figured they'd be up to ti-120 or something now.

Yea. I have the original TI-83. I remember programming on it but I'm not sure if I still have the tick as heck book it came with.

Breakthrough said,
I paid $150 for my TI-83+, and I'll damn well use it how ever the **** I want.

Now if only companies would adopt that stance.
TI's mini-tantrum is overshadowed by Apple's stance on iPhone jailbreaking, and Sony and Nintendo's stance on PSP and Wii homebrew.
Controlling companies = consumer epic fail.

Breakthrough said,
I paid $150 for my TI-83+, and I'll damn well use it how ever the **** I want.

Actually I'm pretty sure you paid to use it as it was DESIGNED, not as an open platform for modification. I'm pretty sure it says that in the legaleze somewhere in the manual.

Anyone get their calculator to divide by 0 yet?