The DMCA and us - Embedded.com

The DMCA and us

Experts tell me that the main Internet bandwidth consumer is porn, but perhaps this is changing. Wholesale MP3 downloading seems to be a cottage industry. College kids strain campus networks by sucking movies into their laptops every night. Even the Men of Honor at the Naval Academy were recently busted for their download transgressions.

I think stealing copyrighted material is wrong. But the RIAA and MPAA are also wrong. The digital age changes the rules. We consumers no longer care about CDs. We pay for bit streams, and must have the right to use them as we'd employ any file. Don't give us “one time copy” rights — how can we realistically back up our collections? I can use a CD in my home, the car, or on a beach. Digital equivalents better be at least as portable.

Copyright owners will have to develop a different business model that recognizes the digital age. They're terrified of free alternatives, but it is possible to compete against “free.” Somehow Perrier charges a small fortune for — water .

Till the dust settles I appease my conscience by not downloading MP3s and movies. But I have ripped all of my CDs, and do listen to them on the computer. No doubt that infuriates the RIAA, but I did pay for the disks and neither signed nor clicked on a form denying any rights for personal use.

Till recently, though, I've felt the copyright issues are mostly in the Internet domain, and have been a fascinated bystander, watching the various sides develop their ethical and business cases. Yet it seems we embedded developers are the vanguard of the new age of copyright issues. An MP3 player — a quintessentially embedded product — can be used legitimately (at least in my mind; the RIAA may feel differently), or as the destination for 20 gigabytes of flagrant copyright violations. The embedded smarts inside TiVO give us the same abilities for video, which an army of lawyers wielding plenty of unworkable technologies is determined to stop.

Now an article on CNET claims Lexmark is suing Static Control Components for selling a chip that lets companies refill toner cartridges. Huh?

Turns out the cartridges contain an IC that handshakes with the printer, exchanging toner level and other information. That's not too surprising; everything is smart today. Even the batteries in notebook PCs have a processor. What blew me away is that Lexmark apparently uses this chip to prohibit toner refills. Is the printer a loss leader, profits being made on sales of cartridges? Lexmark complains that the scofflaw chip mimics the authentication sequence used by Lexmark's chips. Seems like a dumb complaint to me — we computer folks call that emulation, a standard tool we've used for decades.

But section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes such emulation illegal. It says (and I sure hope that laws are not copyrighted!): “No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.”

If you build anything that interfaces to copyrighted material in any manner, Congress thinks the DMCA is your primary requirements document. And if Lexmark can copyright a dreary authentication protocol, what won't be protected by this brain-dead law?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is .

Reader Feedback

Jack has good reason to worry about the future of consumer purchased works of copyrighted materials. Laws such as the DMCA are changing the fundamentally expected consumer fair use rights currently granted under the US code collection title 17 copyright laws. What kind of consumer electronics user experience can we expect when you're required to read through a EULA before playing your newest CD and you can't sell or copy it for personal use on your portable MP3 player? The software licensing model is most certainly the end goal of the MPAA and RIAA, with Fair use and the first sale doctrine a fading memory.

Copyright owners have a right to defend their works against illegal copying and derivative works, but consumers have the right to sell a CD or DVD when they no longer want it. I hope that 5 years from now I'll still have the right to copy my purchased CD's to my mp3 player, pull some shoes on, and take a morning run.

Sean J. Varley
Director of Electrical Engineering
Cornerstone Design Group, Inc.


I think the issue of copyright and online piracy is being approached from entirely the wrong direction by the record companies and such. Several book publishing firms (typically smaller ones) have done some experiments with offering titles free on the internet and have found that, almost without exception, all of the authors that offer their works free online have increased sales due to the free publicity. In fact, even the sales of the free books tend to increase. A great example of this is Jim Baen's free library (http://www.baen.com/library/). Eric Flint, an author that publishes with Baen, runs that site and has a bunch of great articles about this phenomenon. I think that the record companies would find that if they offered free downloads of older albums, they would find that:

a.) that publicity would increase the sales of those artists' newer albums

b.) overall revenues would increase because people would be buying older titles as well as newer ones.

c.) online piracy in general would tend to decrease, because most people, having that option to obtain free music legally, would not use the illegal services.

Mike Sakasegawa
Multi-Discipline Engineer
Raytheon


Here is a subject near to my heart. I have over 1000 CDs and a good stack of movies, so I am a legitimate consumer. And, like Jack, I have ripped my entire collection. I have given out compilation disks to people that might like to hear new music and this results in new fans and new purchases. I think at the root of the entire issue is a basic lack of morality in the bulk distribution of IP and a lack of morality in its users. Personally, I would be happy to give the artist $1 per CD, the production company $1 and a $1 for the manufacturing process. The RIAA has been instrumental in keeping the prices on music artificially high for extreme profits – fostering the lack of ethics that they now moan about.

I personally hope that a few really big groups (not that I listen to much popular music) will market music directly over the internet for small bucks and make a killing. Without a big label involved. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the big labels.

I have taught my children to understand the situation fully and to make decisions they are comfortable. My daughter chose openoffice instead of micro$oft office for ethical reasons. She does have music on her laptop and has downloaded some. She has also purchased the CDs of groups she likes.

Apparently, you hit a topic I have strong feelings about.

Steve Nordhauser
VP of Product Development
Silicon Imaging

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