December 19, 2018

Archives for December 2004

DVD-CCA Sues to Suppress Kaleidescape Product

DVD-CCA, the outfit that licenses the lame DVD anti-copying technology, has sued Kaleidescape, a maker of home video servers, according a story by John Borland:

[DVD-CCA is suing Kaleidescape.] The company, which has won several recent consumer electronics awards, said it has worked closely with the DVD CCA for more than a year, and will fight the suit, filed Tuesday.

Kaleidescape creates expensive consumer electronics networks that upload the full contents of as many as 500 DVDs to a home server, and allow the owner to browse through the movies without later using the DVDs themselves. That’s exactly what the copy-protection technology on DVDs, called Content Scramble System (CSS) was meant to prevent, the Hollywood-backed group said.

“The express intent and purpose of the contract and CSS are to prevent copying of copyrighted materials such as DVD motion pictures,” Bill Coats, a DVD CCA attorney, said in a statement. “While Kaleidescape obtained a license to use CSS, the company has built a system to do precisely what the license and CSS are designed to prevent–the wholesale copying of protected DVDs.”

From the DVD-CCA rhetoric, you might think this suit is about copyright infringement. Reading the article and DVD-CCA statements carefully, though, it seems as if it’s just a contract dispute about whether Kaleidescape violated the terms of its license agreement with DVD-CCA.

(I haven’t seen DVD-CCA’s complaint yet, so I can’t be absolutely sure that there are no copyright claims. But if it were a copyright case, one would have expected the plaintiffs to include some major copyright owners, such as movie studios.)

The subtext here is that DVD-CCA is trying to maintain its control over all technology related to DVDs. In the good old days, copyright law gave copyright owners the right to sue infringers but gave no right to stop noninfringing uses just because the copyright owner didn’t like them. These days, copyright interests seem to want broad control over technology design.

It’s far to early to tell whether this lawsuit will involve big policy issues, or whether it will be confined to narrow issues of contract interpretation. Regardless, its a good bet we’ll learn more about how the DVD-CCA operates.

By the way, the DVD-CCA’s “Procedural Specifications” are freely available for download by anybody who provides their name and contact information. (Amusingly, the Procedural Specifications document itself says, falsely, that “[t]he Procedural Specifications are provided only to CSS Licensees, prospective CSS Licensees, and others with a business need to know consistent with the intent and purposes of the CSS licensing process.”)

Few Sci/Tech Books in OCLC Top 1000

Recently OCLC, a large library consortium, compiled a list of the top 1000 books, measured by the number of copies held by member libraries. In light of the earlier discussion here about must-read books on science and technology, I decided to see which sci/tech books made the OCLC top 1000.

As with the previous college presidents’ list, the results are disappointing. Here are the science/technology books in the OCLC top 1000, leaving out periodicals, general encyclopedias, and medical reference books:

Rank Author Title
115 Darwin Origin of Species
406 Levine Internet for Dummies
422 Darwin Voyage of the Beagle
445 Hawking Brief History of Time
575 Newton Principia
777 Mueller Upgrading and Repairing PCs
966 Krol Whole Internet Guide

Origin of Species is a reasonable pick for the top of the science list, but it ranks surprisingly low, behind three cartoon books. (Garfield ranks 18th, tops among books by living authors. The other two are Doonesbury and Peanuts.) The ideas from Newton’s Principia pervade modern physics, but the book itself is mainly of historical interest. Voyage of the Beagle and Brief History of Time are worthy enough.

It’s the technology books that really disappoint. These books are useful, to be sure, and it’s not surprising that libraries have them. What’s really sad is that no book about the intellectual content or impact of engineering or computer technology made the list.

This stuff is important! Are we as technologists failing to write engaging books about it? Are librarians or the public failing to recognize the value of the books that are written? Probably all of these things are true.

Snocap Tries Authorized P2P

Snocap, a company involving Napster founder Shawn Fanning, is trying to enable new peer-to-peer networks that identify copyrighted works and charge users for receiving them, according to Jeff Leeds’ story in Friday’s New York Times. Snocap is not itself building the P2P network(s), but is supplying the payment and song-identification technology.

Based on press accounts, it appears that the Snocap uses audio fingerprinting technology, which reduces an audio track to a short binary description and then looks that description up in a database containing the descriptions of many known works. The Snocap application will check the fingerprints of the songs it is sharing, and will charge the user accordingly.

In my Rip/Mix/Burn lecture, I talked about how Napster had solved one half of the digital music problem – how to distribute the music – but had ignored the other half – how to manage payment. It turned out that distribution was by far the easier problem to solve; and Napster just left the payment problem for later. You couldn’t pay on Napster, even if you wanted to. Now Snocap will give you a way to pay, at least for songs whose copyright owners register them with Snocap.

Let’s think about how a P2P system based on Snocap might work. When users want to share a file, Snocap will compute the file’s audio fingerprint and look up that fingerprint in the database. One of three things will happen:

  • the file is in the database and the copyright owner has stated conditions for its use,
  • the file is in the database and the copyright owner hasn’t told Snocap anything about the rules for its use, or
  • the file isn’t in the database.

In the first case, the system will clearly enforce the copyright owner’s rules. In the second case, the system knows what the file is, and the file is almost certainly copyrighted, so the system would probably have to deny access to the file.

The third case is the really interesting one. One could argue that the system should deny access here too, since the file is probably copyrighted by somebody, and ignorance of the copyright owner’s identity is no excuse for infringement.

But what if the system allows the distribution of unrecognized files, arguing that the copyright owner is free to register the file with Snocap if he really wants to be paid? Is this enough to shield the P2P operator from liability if the file is infringing? This might make an interesting moot-court case.

But perhaps the P2P operator’s main concern is not to comply with the law, but to reduce the probability of facing a big lawsuit (whether or not that lawsuit has merit). In that case, all that really matters is whether Snocap allows the P2P vendor to kiss up to the big record companies – as long as their content is in Snocap’s database, then they won’t have grounds to sue the P2P vendor. If this is really the innovator’s best strategy, it’s a sad commentary on the state of copyright law.

At the moment we don’t know much about Snocap or how it would be used in P2P networks. Once we see P2P networks using Snocap (if we ever do), we’ll be able to see how they have chosen to address these questions.

UPDATE (7:30 PM): This post originally assumed that Snocap itself was creating a P2P network, rather than just creating the song identification and payment tools. It’s now updated to fix this error. Thanks to Derek Slater for pointing out my earlier error.