Re: Anti DIVX resource

Gordon Irlam (
Wed, 29 Apr 1998 23:32:54 -0700 (PDT)

From: (Ian Lance Taylor)
Newsgroups: cygnus.junk
Date: 27 Apr 1998 17:35:26 -0700

This little rant from John Gilmore deserves a wider audience.


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>From: (John Gilmore)
>Date: 27 Apr 1998 15:10:39 -0700

> The last time I looked at the Free Software Foundation web site there
> was still an article on `the right way to tax DAT'. Is this obsolete,
> then?

No, the DAT Tax is alive and well. In fact it isn't a DAT tax; it
applies to all digital media for recording audio. A major evil update
of it is in Congress now -- HR 2281.

The existing "DAT Tax" is the Audio Home Recording Act, Title 17,
Chapter 10, of the U.S. Code, passed in October 28, 1992. A summary
of the law is at, with a link to the
full law text. It looks a lot like RMS's old idea about a "software
tax": the 2% royalty on audio decks and 3% royalty on audio media all
go into a fund, which the Library of Congress doles out to record
companies, featured artists, song-writers, and music publishers,
*based on their commercial sales and airplay*! It's socialism at its
best. This amazing law *assumes* you are going to violate copyrights,
taxes you in advance for it, and gives the money to rock stars and
record companies who are already making megabucks, assuming that you
are going to copy popular artists whose work you can find anywhere,
rather than obscure artists whose work you can't buy for money. It's
a great government-administered scam for record companies; they
collect whether or not they do any work for you.

The alliance between audio equipment manufacturers and intellectual
property holders (many of whom are owned by the same conglomerates,
like Sony & Columbia Records) is holding up well. They are pushing
forward on many, many fronts. These include audio CD recording, DVD,
DIVX, and reverse engineering. These are just the first shots in the
intellectual property wars -- wait til you see the kind of terms &
conditions the equipment you purchase and own will enforce against you
twenty years from now! The key thing to learn here is that it doesn't
matter what copyright law says about a particular act of copying; if
the equipment physically won't make you a copy, then a "copying right"
has been enforced even if no legal copyright is infringed. The movie
and record companies are working VERY hard to make sure that the
"copying rights" implemented by all consumer audio and video gear are
suited for the needs of those big companies, not for the needs of the
end users. And they are extending these controls to general purpose
computers using the IEEE 1394/FireWire interface.

In case you hadn't noticed, computers can digitally read audio CD's,
and record audio CD-R's, in full fidelity these days, and the blanks
cost a buck or less. This has forced audio equipment manufacturers to
finally produce a "consumer" CD recorder, like consumer audio tape
decks. You just plug in analog or digital audio, press "Record", and
you get a CD. Philips and Pioneer have already announced or
introduced these decks. The catches are: they don't work with
ordinary CD-R media, and they enforce a truly rotten copy-protection
scheme, SCMS! The special media are required to enforce the royalty
payments mandated by the law. The copy-protection scheme is also
mandated by the law, though the way manufacturers implement it is the
really rotten part.

The law requires that SCMS be provided. SCMS provides that public
domain material can have an infinite number of generations of perfect
digital copies, but that material marked as "copyrighted" can only be
copied one generation. (You can make as many copies as you want from
your original, but if you lose the original you can't ever make more
copies.) The trick is that the SCMS spec never says what marking to
put on incoming analog or microphone signals. All the manufacturers
put a marking of "copyrighted material" on such signals. So, even if
the material is public domain, or if YOU are the copyright owner,
e.g. you're recording your own band or your kid's birthday party,
the equipment prevents you from making copies of your own material!

I've been using this system on MiniDiscs for years. MD's are little
floppy-sized magneto-optical disks that hold 74 minutes of compressed
stereo audio (140 MB of data). They work pretty well except for the
manufacturers' bullheaded attitude about copying. Besides SCMS, they
also make it hard to copy by other means. You can't buy a portable MD
deck that has a "digital out" jack, for less then twice the price of
ordinary MD decks. They all have "digital in", but only one or two
expensive models have "digital out", and as new generations of
recorders are introduced, they don't bother to introduce one with
"digital out".

I ended up keeping my early-90's era Sony MZ-1 decks, though I've had
both of them in for repairs twice, because I can't find a modern deck
that offers this. I also ended up buying a "professional audio"
device (which is exempt from the law because it's for pros rather than
consumers) which can set the SCMS copy-code bits to "public domain" on
audio data that flows through it. I record a lot of concerts, WITH
the permission of the artists, but have to subvert my equipment to do
it. Every time I buy more blank MD's, I think again about how much I
hate the system, and how I would instantly switch over to a freed
random-access digital audio recording system if only some manufacturer
would offer one!

I won't lengthen this message much on DVD, DIVX, and reverse
engineering. DVD video discs are encrypted using a "region key";
there are six regions defined. If you buy a German DVD, your US
player won't play it since it doesn't have the European master key.
This protects the movie companies' distribution systems so they can
trickle out the product, market by market, without the millions of
e.g. US discs, where the movie has been released for six months,
escaping into the European or Asian markets where they're still
charging "first-run" prices.

DIVX is even more excessive. It builds a royalty system on top of DVD.
Instead of renting videos, you buy a DIVX disc at a video rental store.
Your DIVX player will only play it for the 48 hours starting when you
pop the disc in for the first time. After that, it will charge a
royalty to your credit card whenever you try to play the disc again.
If you just wanted to "rent" it for 48 hours, you can throw the disc away.
The player remembers the royalty payments and demands to be connected
to a phone line to call an 800-number and dump them periodically; if you
don't connect it, it refuses to play any discs until you do.
The whole thing is secured by crypto to protect the intellectual property.

Of course, all of this would fall apart if you could reverse-engineer
the decks, and legally build equipment that would play or copy the
data. They only have six master DVD keys for the whole world; they
would get found out pretty quickly. The Audio Home Recording Act
doesn't cover video, but the industry has pushed very hard for a new
bill, HR 2281, misleadingly titled as a WIPO (World Intellectual
Property Organization) treaty implementation act. This bill makes it
illegal to reverse-engineer any protection for intellectual property,
and even makes it illegal to sell or possess equipment that *could be
used* to do so. You could be thrown in jail and/or have your
equipment seized, without ever actually infringing anyone's
copyrights. This bill *PASSED* the House Judiciary Committee on April
1, by a voice vote, but has not been voted on by the full House or
Senate yet. The WIPO treaty doesn't require any of this stuff, and
there's an alternative bill that simply implements the WIPO treaty, HR
3048. But the big money and push is behind the bad bill.

Now the same gang is targeting computers (via the IEEE 1394 FireWire
digital interface). For an overview of these and related activities
(e.g. Divx), see and search the DVD
FAQ (HTML version) for FireWire and CGMS.

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