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The press, DVDs and consumer non-power

By Scott Bradner

That will teach me to rely on the press for accurate reporting! I have received some rather pointed corrections on some of the details that I used in the recent column about DVDs and the DeCSS program. The corrections did not effect the basic message of the column which was that making it harder to see if protections systems such as encryption work well is counter productive if someone actually wants to protect something. But they did deal with two "facts" I mentioned in passing.

In the column I said "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 since you can just do a bit for bit copy. A number of readers pointed to my text as incorrect.

Another thing I said in the column was that the 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 it turns 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 said that the judge ruled that 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 they get money from you when you buy the player and when you buy the DVD - sounds like a good deal for someone. They also encode a "regional code" into the DVD. This can be used to limit where a particular DVD can be used. You can buy a DVD in the US that will not work on a DVD player built for France.

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 the buyer to use the DVD they paid for where they want to.

But you can bet that these DVD 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.