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12/30/99 - It looks like my report on copy protection couldn't be more timely.  The DVD Copy Control Association (I know, I haven't heard of them either but they are the group founded by Hollywood and hardware manufactures that licenses DVD technology) has sued approximately 75 websites over the DeCSS hack. The DVD Copy Control Associations has stated that they would sue up to 500 sites if they knew the identity of the authors of those sites.  The DVD Copy Control Association has accused the defendants of stealing proprietary technology, in particular the "keys" for the CSS digital encryption method.  The defendants claim that since Xing left the DVD keys unencrypted, there was no theft involved.  Personally, I think that the DVD Copy Control Association has cast their net too wide by suing so many people.  They attempted to seek a restraining order against the 75 sites, but a judge refused to grant the order.  This also bodes poorly Internet free speech.  Some of these sites did little more than link to other sites that conatined the DeCSS hack.  This proves how serious Hollywood takes copyrights.  It also proves that they still don't get it.  Instead of attacking the heart of the copyright problem (i.e., the demand) they instead rely on the same heavy handed tactics that have proved ineffective in the past.

CNN has also confirmed that the DVD-Audio players will contain a new copyright scheme called CSS2.  The CNN article did not list any technical details or the difference between CSS2 and CSS.

12/26/99 - Just when it looked like Pioneer wasn't going to announce any new titles this year, Ken Cranes LD/DVD Superstore
reports that Best Man and Double Jeopardy are coming to LD in February.  Unfortunately, we lose Dudley Do-Right in the process.  Judging by Dudley Do-Right's abysmal showing at the box office, I'd hazard a guess that this title was canceled due to poor preorders.

12/25/99 Just in time for Christmas, here is the second part of my copyright report:

In the first part of my report on copy protection, I commented on how the advancement of digital technology has made it easier for video pirates, as well as ordinary citizens, to make bootleg copies of copyrighted videos.  In the past, the number of analog generations (copy of a copy) you could make was finite.  With each generation, the sound and/or video quality deteriorated.  In my experience using VHS, you can only make between five and ten generations (depending on the quality of tape and equipment used) before the quality becomes unacceptable.  Therefore, this automatically puts a limit on the spread on copyrighted material.  For instance, if someone took a VHS tape and made two copies and gave it too his/her buddies and each of the buddies made two copies and gave it to their buddies and so on and so forth, the maximum number of bootleg copes made would be 2^10 or 1024 copies (assuming 10 generations can be made).  In other words, the maximum number of copies (assuming 10 generations and everyone makes n copies) is n^10 where n is an integer.  To minimize the number of bootlegs possible, you have to minimize n.  Therefore, you have to make sure no one makes a lot of copies.  Right now, the only people making hundreds of copies are professional bootleggers, not ordinary citizens.  However, digital technology allows one to make copies with NO loss.  Therefore, there is no upper bound to the number of generations possible.  For instance, if a college student creates a MP3 and makes two copes and gives it to his/her buddies and each buddy makes two copies and gives it to their buddies, the maximum number of copies possible is 2^infinity which is infinity.  Furthermore, each of these copies would be indistinguishable from the original.  You can see why Hollywood is understandably concerned.

Right now, you can see the power of digital technology by examining the MP3 phenomenon.  Professional bootleggers are not making MP3, ordinary citizens (mostly college students) are.  Right now, ordinary and otherwise law abiding citizens are ripping songs off their CDs and posting them on the Internet or emailing them to friends.  Those friends in turn pass them on to their friends, etc., etc.  What is created is a pyramid that Tupperware and Revlon would kill to get :).  Luckily for Hollywood, this is not happening with video yet for several reasons:  (1) There are few digital video sources available.  Sure, there is DVD, miniDV and Digital Satellite (DSS) but only a few of these products actually output a digital signal unlike the millions of CD (and DVD and LD) players with digital outputs. (2) There is no easy way to distribute digital video.  Sure there is DVHS, miniDV and DSL.  But none of those technologies is as cheap or prevalent as CDs and ordinary phone wire.  I'd mention VideoCD, which is the choice of pirates in Asia, but VideoCD is surprisingly scarce in America.

So far, Hollywood's response to this future threat is to simply try to stop any and all copying.  So far, Hollywood has mandated that all DVD players must ship with not one but two copy protection schemes (both of which have already been broken as I pointed out in the first part of my report ).  Also, Hollywood is trying to make it impossible to make copies using IEEE 1394 (aka i.Link, aka Firewire) connectors.  Note: IEEE 1394 is a digital connection standard popular with miniDV camcorders.  In fact, the Hollywood studios rejected a IEEE 1394 copyright scheme (called 5C) invented by such hardware heavyweight such as Hitachi, Intel, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba because it can pass along video at full resolution to LCD screens.

SInce the DVD copyright protection can now be defeated with relative ease, Hollywood is undoubtedly looking for a new copyright scheme.   This scheme is likely to debut on DVD-Audio players since all players have been delayed (except Pioneer 's players which will be "upgradeable" to the new copyright standard).  What sort of "features" should this new copyright scheme have?  To answer that question, you have to answer a much broader question.  Do people have the right to make copies of copyrighted material?  After all, Hollywood studios spend millions of dollars creating movies, in turn creating thousands of jobs. Do they have a right to be compensated for their efforts? Of course they do.  But, does this mean that we can't create any copies at all?  The answer is maybe.  The law certainly protects Hollywood's right to protect their products but it also acknowledges that there are many legitimate reasons to copy copyrighted material.

Title 17, Chapter 1 of the United States Code spells out the powers and limitations of copyright law.  When reading the law you quickly realize that copyrights do not grant absolute power over copying.   There are some significant limitations which I will summarize (believe me, you don't want to read the entire document, its long and complicated.  That's part of the reason the second part took so long to write).  The only section I will actually quote is Section 107, Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use because it is the broadest section.  It says:

"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a working any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include -

     (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit
     educational purposes;
     (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
     (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
     (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. The fact that a work is unpublished shall
     not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

This section was added because it helps protect the First Amendment (the news reporting and criticism part).  Also, the reason such a large exception is granted for education is that people learn by copying, its human nature.  For instance, think back to when you learned to write.  How did you do it?  If you were like me, you copied each letter of the alphabet 20 times (using ridiculously large pencils and paper with 1" between the lines).   If we had to resort to asking copyright holders for permission, learning would be seriously stunted.

This is section is also the reason I can put screenshots of movies on my webpage without worrying (too much) about being sued.  That is because my use of those images can be justified by the above law.

Other pertinent sections include:

Sec 108 Limitations on exclusive rights: Reproduction by libraries and archives - Libraries are allowed to make up to three backup copies.  Why is this important to you?  Because libraries buy the same videos as we do.  Therefore, if a copyright scheme does not allow backups (like Macrovision and CSS) it could be theoretically against the law.  Luckily, libraries are allowed to use copyright eliminators although it is technically illegal for anyone to sell such devices (That is why copyright eliminators go by such cute names as "color correctors" and "video clarifies").

Sec. 109. Limitations on exclusive rights: Effect of transfer of particular copy or phonorecord - This section basically states that while the copyright owner owns the program material, you own the physical medium it is stored on.  Therefore, if you want to smear elephant dung on a LD and sell it to a museum, go ahead.  However, if you want to insert CGI elephant dung into Jurassic Park and distribute it over the Internet, you better have a good lawyer.  This section also gives you the right to buy and sell used videos.

Section 111. Limitations on exclusive rights: Secondary transmissions - Basically, this allows private citizens, hotels, landlords, etc. to install video distributions systems and/or home networks.  Luckily, Macrovision does NOT impair this (Note: Running video through a RF modulator eliminates Macrovision)

Section 117  Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer programs - This allows anyone to make backups of their software.  Are future (or current) digital formats considered video or computer software?

Section 121. Limitations on exclusive rights: reproduction for blind or other people with disabilities - The title pretty much explains it all.

As you can see, I believe that consumers do have the right to copy copyrighted videos (under certain situations).  Therefore, any copyright scheme that simply forbids copying is bad.  I believe that a good copyright system should contain the following:

(1) The system should be transparent.  I.e., there should be no visible or audible degradation, unlike Macrovision.
(2) The ability to make at least one backup copy.
(3) The ability to extract short clips and screenshots (This is a bit of a selfish choice since this helps my website).
(4) There should be an "artist's mode." Many filmmakers shoot on video (Blair Witch Project), not to mention the camcorder fanatics who videotape their child's every move.  If the number of copies one could make is limited, it could impair editing, etc.  As a result, I think that the creator of video should be able to choose if he/she wants to enable the copy protection.  However, once enabled, no one can turn it off.

Therefore, I don't mind copyright systems that limit the number of generations one can make of copyrighted material and digital watermarks (as long as they are transparent) since neither of these feature will hurt law abiding citizens.

However, if I were Hollywood, I would try something they never tired before, education.  Most people I have talked to have no concept of copyrights or what they can or can't do.  Throughout video's short history, Hollywood never tried to educate the public about copyrights.  They are real good at convincing people to buy "digitally remastered" videos but horrible at convincing people not to buy bootlegs.  I grew up in the 80's, so I remember the birth of video.  After the Supreme Court trial (MCA and Disney vs. Sony) which allowed people to "timeshift" videos, people believed they could copy any video as long as it was for "personal use."  Hollywood never tried to dispel this notion, instead they just slapped a FBI warning on videos.  There are plenty of compelling reasons why one should not make bootlegs.  One is that Hollywood truly deserves to be justly compensated for their efforts.  Second, the bootleg videos you buy from that shady video store is often produced by the mob.  By buying those videos, you finance them.

So here's my message to the general public - Don't buy or produce bootleg videos.  So what if Episode I comes out in 2005 on DVD, you can wait.

And here's my message to Hollywood - Don't take away our rights and treat us with a little respect, you might be surprised by the results.  Also, release Episode I on DVD (or LD) before 2005, there's no reason you have to make us wait.

Anyway, have a HappyHoliday and thanks to all who have visited the Laserdisc Information Page this year.  In the next couple of days, I'll finally add a blank review page so you can review any title under the sun.  Stay Tuned.

12/10/99 It's the holidays again and like most people, I've been real busy.  Too busy, in fact, to finish the second part of my report on copy protection that I started last month.  However, never fear, I will finish it (soon).  Meanwhile, there is little new news to report this weeks since Image Entertainment did not announce any releases for February.  In addition, Pioneer has only announced one title for February so far (that title is Stir of Echoes, which for some odd reason will not be Letterboxed in spite of the fact that it was projected theatrically at 1.85:1) .  However, that does not mean that there will be no Laserdiscs in February.  First of all, there are 21 Laserdiscs due this month and the next.  Some of those are bound to be dealyed and released in February.  In fact, that has already happened.  The General's Daughter (LBX) and Dudley Do-Right (LBX,DD) will have been pushed back to February 1.   Also, I'm not the only one busy this holiday.  Both Image and Pioneer have been busy shuffling their release schedules.  Some were delayed but others like Life is Beautiful (LBX,DD,Sub,Dub) and Inspector Gadget (LBX,DD) were actually pushed up a week (They are tentatively scheduled to be released next week) so take a look at my release calendar to see the changes in addition to some info on extras that will be included with some LD releases.



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