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'Net Insider:

The press, DVDs and consumer nonpower

By Scott Bradner
Network World, 02/14/00            

Well, that will teach me to rely on the mainstream press for accurate reporting!

I have received some rather pointed corrections on some of the details that I used in a recent column about DVDs and the DeCSS program, software found on Web sites that is designed to circumvent the copy protection of DVDs (NW, Jan. 31, page 38). The corrections did not affect the basic message of the column: that making it harder to see if protection systems - such as encryption - work well is counterproductive if someone actually wants to protect something. But the corrections did address two "facts" that I mentioned in passing.

In the column, I wrote: "Material on DVDs is encrypted to prevent unauthorized copying." While this is true in the context that I had in mind (being able to copy a song from a DVD onto your disk), it is not true if you want to copy the whole DVD because you can just do a bit for bit copy. A number of readers pointed to my text as incorrect.

Another thing I wrote in the column was that two judges had ruled that the posting of DeCSS had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I relied on the mainstream press for that information and that information turned out to be incorrect, as was pointed out by a number of readers with varying degrees of eloquence. It turns out that the California judge ruled that DeCSS violated the California Trade Secrets Act and not the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (The judge's decision is at I don't have a pointer to the New York judge's decision, but one reader wrote that the judge ruled the software was an unlicensed DVD reader and that was illegal.

I found out a lot about DVDs and their encryption scheme from the readers' letters and from (which contains more information about DVD that any one person should ever need to know). Basically the encryption is to prevent playing DVDs on players that have not been licensed by the DVD Forum. So the forum gets money from you when you buy the player and when you buy the DVD - sounds like a good deal for someone.

DVD makers also encode a "regional code" into their products that can restrict where a particular DVD can be used, so a U.S.-bought DVD will not work on a player built for the French market.

I doubt most consumers would consider these DVD features all that good for them - they limit the competition for DVD players and limit the flexibility of buyers to use DVDs they paid for where they want to use them.

But you can bet that these features foreshadow what content providers would like to do on the Internet - and they will succeed if consumers let them.

Disclaimer: Harvard is full of features, some as useful as those above. But this is my own opinion of feature-itus.

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