November 12, 2003

A DMCA Case in the Making [8:37 pm]

Slashdot: Ritz Disposable Digital Camera Hacked; referring to this Wiki on the Dakota Digital Camera

Usably hacked! Download your pictures the fast, easy way with the bulk-transfer software for Mac, Unix and Windows. Download your pictures (actually, entire flash memory contents) the raw, 10-hour way with flashdump.c, flashdump2iso.c, and optionally chewfat.cpp.

This is a very cheap ($12) “disposable” digital camera sold at select Ritz/Wolf Camera stores. Note that this is NOT the same as the one sold at Walgreens. Normally the camera must be returned to the store (negating a big feature of digital cameras), another $12 is paid for processing, and you get prints, an index print, and a CD (they try to call this a “free” cd, but of course its not, don’t be fooled, you paid for it). Build quality seems variable - these sample pictures suck these pictures are ok (aside from the content :-)

The camera has a Flash, a delete button, and a 10 second self timer, but no LCD for picture review. It claims a 2 megapixel resolution, but it seems its an up-scale from 1.3 megapixels. The focus is calibrated at the factory, and the lens glued in place with a drop of epoxy. It uses a cheaper CMOS sensor, instead of a CCD sensor, which is what most cameras over $150 use. For comparison, Ritz’s sells a $99 two megapixel camera with an LCD.

[...] Although a standard JPEG compression engine is used, it is believed that pictures are stored in some sort of proprietary or non-standard format.

Reading the whole Wiki entry actually suggests that the storage format may be just FAT12, using a file structure quite similar to the Sony digital camera system (/DCIM directories, for example), meaning that the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions may not apply to the data, but it will probably at least be a consideration insofar as the extraction of the camera’s code goes. We’ll see.

Some good comments:

Gotta put one in my time capsule (Score:2)

by mackman (19286) on Wednesday November 12, @08:30PM (#7460164)

(http://office-exchange.com/)

of failed business plans, right next to my collection of mint condition CueCats (ed: see also this).

Re:Gotta put one in my time capsule by Stile 65 (Score:1) Wednesday November 12, @08:38PM

Bad PR for the Computer Community (Score:1)

by prozac79 (651102) on Wednesday November 12, @08:34PM (#7460198)

I have a feeling that the makers of these cameras will start to spin how the computer community is to blame for hacking every consumer product and making it do things that the manufacturer never intended. They can say stuff like “We can’t make any good products because when we do, someone finds a way to hack and ruin it!” They then run behind the DMCA so that they can make money on a plan that is shown to be flawed. Do they make a better product? Nope. They just get behind their lawyers and try to cram bad products down the public’s throat. I say we need need to spend less money fighting for flawed methodologies and products (do you hear me RIAA/MPAA?) and more time on R&D.

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Two Legal Battles Heating Up [5:49 pm]

The back and forth on the SCO v. IBM case is better tracked over at Groklaw, but this new level is a stunner: SCO, IBM battle heats up. (Slashdot discussion: SCO Fires back, Subpoenas Stallman, Torvalds et al).

However, it’s the Altnet move from yesterday that has me particularly intrigued: Altnet says P2P spies violate patent rights

Altnet, a company that distributes files legally through Kazaa and other peer-to-peer services, has sent legal threats to nine companies that monitor or meddle with file-trading networks, accusing them of violating its patent rights.

[...] The full list of companies targeted by the Altnet letters includes

  • BigChampagne

  • BayTSP

  • Cyveillance

  • MediaDefender

  • MediaSentry

  • NetPD

  • Overpeer

  • Ranger Online

  • Vidius

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DMCA Cease & Desist [2:06 pm]

This time for security research/bug posting by an Italian (in Milan) on a a GameSpy program: Gamespy uses DMCA to destroy bug research and full disclosure; Slashdot discussion: GameSpy Sends DMCA-Based C&D To Security ResearcherOffending website

Note that there is at least one comment on Slashdot that suggests there’s a backstory to this — I don’t know enough about multiplayer game servers to begin to be able to comment.

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Fallout in the Music Sharing Wars [8:50 am]

From Salon: Don’t look now, but the dean is watching

The idea that university administrators are reading private e-mail might seem distinctly Big Brotherian, but the practice is increasingly commonplace. When students access the Internet via university equipment, everything they do — from sending e-mail and visiting Web sites, to sharing pictures and using certain kinds of software — is being watched.

Historically, computer network administrators have monitored student activity online for purely legitimate, technical reasons. Increasingly, however, pressure from government and industry is forcing university administrators to become digital spies. Fears of terrorism, combined with concerns about copyright violations, are creating a climate of campus surveillance.

At the University of California at Berkeley, the everyday Web-surfing habits of students are regularly watched and recorded. Berkeley’s Systems and Network Security group uses a program called BRO — named after the infamous fascist icon from George Orwell’s “1984″ — that keeps logs of every IP address students visit on the Internet from the campus network.

Cliff Frost, UC-Berkeley’s director of communication and network services, says that “this practice is under review right now,” because the campus community feels it interferes with academic freedom. He expects that the university will continue to keep logs but will discard them after a month or two. “I’d love to keep that data forever,” he adds, “if there weren’t the threats of subpoenas for vile purposes.”

[...] And if the experiences of MIT computer network director Jeff Schiller are any indication, USA-PATRIOT Act subpoenas are being used on a regular basis to gather information about student online activity. “Things have definitely changed around here since 9/11,” Schiller says. “Nobody has come around with a blanket subpoena looking for e-mails sent by Muslims [on campus]. But we’d never seen subpoenas for information related to national security before, and now we do.” He couldn’t reveal how many of these subpoenas he’s received, but he did confirm that there has been a marked escalation in the electronic investigation of people at MIT “on terrorist grounds.”

The only way to defend student privacy against USA-PATRIOT subpoenas, says University of Michigan public policy professor Virginia Rezmierski, is for university IT departments to stop saving their logs. You can’t subpoena information that doesn’t exist. Rezmierski is the lead author of a 2001 National Science Foundation study of network monitoring and logging practices on college campuses.

[...] Perhaps most disturbing to critics and privacy advocates is the fact that schools are responding to subpoenas from the music recording industry with as much alacrity — and as many privacy-invading techniques — as they are to subpoenas related to national security. In their efforts to ferret out pirates, administrators are violating their own campus privacy policies, treating students who use P2P software the same way they would treat potential terrorists.

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Wired News on Berklee Shares [8:42 am]

Teaching Music Traders a Lesson

“Berklee is choosing to share its music lessons; artists may choose to share their songs,” said an RIAA spokesman. “What’s important is that the choice is theirs, not the choice of some profiteer who is choosing to distribute their intellectual property without their permission.”

The Boston school, which boasts talented alums like Quincy Jones, Diana Krall and Branford Marsalis, said the free lessons are a natural companion to the online courses available on its website and its traditional, on-campus college of 3,800 students. The course materials are available in QuickTime, MP3 and PDF formats.

[...] “What’s missing is a forum to explore the issues in a constructive way so at the end of the day, we might have some alternatives that don’t appear very realistic at the moment,” [Berklee's associate VP David] Kusek said.

Kusek challenged people in the music business to come and join the debate.

“Let’s figure out what to do to make the digital transformation of the music industry work for everyone in a way that makes sense,” he said.

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David Isenberg on the FCC’s VoIP Moves [8:37 am]

The Fix is in on VOIP Regulation — Reed Hundt [via BoingBoing]. Recall that Reed Hundt spoke at ILaw this summer.

Apparently the December 1 meeting is to be a formal FCC hearing designed to legally circumvent the more normal, deliberative Notice of Inquiry process, which is designed to solicit, collect and consider a wide range of public comments. The FCC is in a hurry. “Things have greatly accelerated over the last year,” writes Powell to Wyden, “and so have the FCC’s actions.”

The hearing will hear “a wide range of witnesses from industry and government,” but not (apparently) from the entrepreneurial creators of the next communications industry, from end users who stand to benefit from the demise of the old telephone “industry”.

“Shortly after the forum,” the letter continues, “The FCC will initiate a Notice of Public (sic) Rule Making on VoIP services.” As if the FCC will not need much time to consider the “witnesses” in the forum, as if the FCC already knows what the rules will say, as if the fix is in.

Powell closes by saying, “As the Senate moves to debate the Internet Tax Moritorium in the coming days, I urge caution in addressing VoIP issues.” One of the VoIP issues on the table is Universal Service, according to Powell. That’s a tax. It’s a tax that is being explored by somebody who recently likened the Internet to a Mercedes Benz — a luxury, not a necessity.

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An Interesting Theory [8:27 am]

A press release objecting to further concentration in the music business includes an interesting theory about the problems facing the industry today: Independent Music Companies Slam Concentration And The Merger Race

The independents point out that the crisis in the recording sector is mainly the result of supply problems and the majors’ trading practices, which are themselves the product of concentration. Legitimate recorded music and methods of supplying it to consumers have become less attractive and less seductive. The industry has failed to listen. This is the real crisis. Further concentration will simply exacerbate the cause. Concentration kills diversity and music. The remedy is more competition and less concentration.

The independents are concerned about the negative impact across the whole value chain from record companies to publishers to artists, performers, employees, managers, retailers, composers, writers, collecting societies and of course consumers. The independents will formally oppose the deals through IMPALA.

I can’t find IMPALA online, but there is the Association of Independent Music, whose site does mention IMPALA as their companion European organization.

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Beastie Boys Copyright Infringement Suit [7:58 am]

From BillBoard: Court Backs Beasties In Copyright Suit Appeal

In 1992, the Beastie Boys got a license from ECM Records to sample a copyrighted sound recording from James W. Newton Jr.’s flute composition, “Choir.” The group copied a six-second, three-note sequence and looped it throughout its song “Pass the Mic,” featured on the 1992 Capitol album “Check Your Head.”

Eight years later, Newton sued the Beastie Boys, alleging that the remix infringed the “heart” of his flute composition, and that the band should have obtained a license from him as the composer of the underlying work. The case, Newton v. Diamond, was originally filed in the central district of California.

In affirming the lower court’s summary judgment, the appellate court on Nov. 4 held that there was no infringement because the use of the sample was minimal. “Newton is in a weak position to argue that the similarities between the works are substantial, or that an average audience would recognize the appropriation,” the court held.

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USPTO To Re-Examine Eolas Patent [7:52 am]

CNet News: Patent office to re-examine Eolas patent

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has stepped squarely into a fight roiling the Web by agreeing to re-examine the Eolas patent for a browser plug-in, a development likely to bring cheer to Microsoft and software patent foes alike.

[...] “A substantial outcry from a widespread segment of the affected industry has essentially raised a question of patentability with respect to the 906 patent claims,” Stephen Kunin, the USPTO’s deputy commissioner for patent examination policy, wrote in his order for re-examination. “This creates an extraordinary situation for which a director-ordered examination is an appropriate remedy.”

Kunin specifically cited the technologies that the W3C had raised in its request for re-examination.

“A substantial new question of patentability exists with respect to claims 1-3 and 6-8 of the 906 patent in view of prior art acknowledged by the patentee in the 906 patent and the newly cited teachings of Berners-Lee, Raggett I and Raggett II,” Kunin wrote.

Update: Slashdot discussion - USPTO To Reexamine Eolas, SBC Patents

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