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30 December 1999

DVD news: A big legal tussle sprang up last week regarding the success of the open-source community's efforts to freely play DVDs on Linux systems by reverse-engineering the encryption on the DVD discs (since none of the DVD partners would give them acceptable licensing terms for their proprietary code). The free program is named DeCSS. Yesterday the Linux programmers' side (the defense) won a medium-size courtroom victory. We join our story in progress:

  • First-person account of the day by Chris DiBona
    [a precedent the defense cited:] Earlier on this century, Chicago Lock Company held as a trade secret a key/lock combination that was used in early pay phones. The Chicago Lock Company kept it as a trade secret ostensibly to prevent their invention from being exposed after expiration of patent. Here's the apt, bitchin, part, there were a number of lock smiths who reverse engineered the keys and sold that service. The Chicago Lock Company sued and was rejected out right, with the court saying that "The court does not guarantee profits for companies whose technology has been reverse engineered." and found for the lock smiths.

  • Lots of good comments on Slashdot
    "Why shouldn't I be able to [play DVDs on my Linux box]? More important, why should a movie studio have the power to tell me I can't do that?"

    The DVD Consortium sent in a serious legal strike team...and they struck out, against two EFF lawyers with nothing but 48 hours to prep and a strong sense of justice.

    Deirdre [Saoirse] got the attention of defence attorney Robin Gross, during a court recess, and made sure they understood the very vital point that DeCSS has nothing to do with DVD copying, which was possible (but uneconomical) before DeCSS was written using other tools entirely. The defence team then explained this to the judge, who was visibly surprised by the news. The plaintiffs may well have lost the day, right there.

    From the perspective of a content creator, we are rapidly moving towards a world where I (a musician) have no access to the popular media formats at all, unless I go through the DVD or recording industry.

  • Top comments from the initial 12/27 Slashdot article on the lawsuit
    This debate is rightly focused on issues of free speech and openess of hardware specifications, but there is another BIG issue that isn't getting much air time: how the heck did we get into a situation where our mass removable storage systems are being designed by the recording industry and movie industry? What is all that encryption hardware doing in there and why does it make my computer work better? To put this another way, why are we being served up hardware that was designed in the best interests of people who aren't us, and why do we accept that?

The next hearing (on January 14th) should prove similarly interesting.

Followup to previous post #1: No one's come forward and said they've used a cheaper domain registrar than NSI with any success. Guess it's still $70 per for me.

Followup to previous post #2: I still don't have a good bead on whether or not it would be legal to make & post my own transcripts of the presidential debates. A couple of non-lawyer folks have said 'Try it; the worst that can happen is, they tell you to cease and desist'. Hmmmm. [crosses arms, cradles chin in hand, slowly taps side of face with index finger, pauses, looks at camera, raises eyebrow] Hmmmmmmmm.

Good advice from Robot Wisdom and others: Make a[nother] backup of your important files now.

Oh, now that we're past the shopping season, Doofus Toy Company Starting With An E says it's not going to 'press' its lawsuit against [Wired News]. How gracious. I'd actually kind of prefer to see the case tried, just so the bad guys would lose and set a useful precedent concerning future domain shenanigans.

The 'other' embryonic MacOS web browser iCab seems to be shaping up quite well. Further along than Mozilla in a few ways. Still the only browser that constantly indicates whether the page you're viewing is written according to the HTML spec -- very useful for debugging.

Yes' latest album The Ladder has grown on me quite a bit. My latest batch of programming was largely done to the sound of that and various other recent Yes albums rather than Philip Glass' Satyagraha and/or The Bobs like I've habitually done lately. Sometimes you need a little variety.

(I would have pointed to the GiveQuick/Barnes & Noble page for Glass' opera, but they had negligible information on it beyond price; Amazon's page was filled with information, including audio excerpts. Hm.)

One source I've found myself visiting repeatedly to keep up on election news is They pretty much just cover the Republican side of things, but it's a handy source for keeping up with that side of the house, at least.

This piece by Christopher Hitchens bears thinking fairly hard about. I haven't had much time to, myself; I'm posting this so I can go back & find it when I'm ready.

  • Twisted v. Weird [London Review of Books, via Lake Effect]
    ...the polls commissioned and released by expensive consultants are, in any ordinary sense of the term, fraudulent. They are designed not to measure public perceptions but to influence them. An honest poll should report how many people declined to answer the question, as well as which percentage of respondents said what. So great is the general weariness (and wariness) that we now learn that many polls draw a 'response rate' as low as 20 per cent. But that's not what the reportage conveys, when it informs you that more than half of your neighbours and friends have already selected their 'front-runner'.

    My own proposal ... is to have international monitors keep watch on the election, and certify that it is 'free and fair'. Have candidates been bought? Have delegates been purchased? Is access to the media available to outsider candidates? Were there any legal or pecuniary restrictions on entry to the race? Were the primaries open? I think that a group of supervisors and poll-watchers, drawn from the Timorese and Kosovar and South African and Chechen intelligentsias, should already be booking passage.

I really like his idea of having independent monitoring of the U.S. elections, just like the monitoring we insist is necessary in other, 'less mature' democracies. We claim to be such a beacon of democracy, what's to fear from someone verifying our greatness, eh?

I saw a wall of about 20 different kinds of 'Chicken Soup for the ____ Soul' books at the mall tonight. Talk about overkill.

Seen on MetaFilter: Google seems to be counting down to something. It could be could be some new features on Google...or, it could be the debut of Lynette's new site...

That's it for a few more days, gotta go to my next engagement. Happy New Year, and assuming we all make it through the weekend, see you next week.

Is there something that I'm
Supposed to see?
Is there something that I'm
Supposed to feel?
-- Yes, "New Languages", The Ladder, 1999

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