In the Bunner DVD case, the DVD Copy Control Association attempted to
suppress the distribution (or even linking to) of the DeCSS code (which
decrypts content from DVDs) with the claim that the code contained trade
secrets. The court's rulings suggested that the trade secret claim was not
going to hold up, and the Bunner case was dropped last year. The trade
secret weapon had proved ineffective in this case.
The DVDCCA has responded with a change of direction: the group is now suing
321 Studios, which makes a proprietary DVD copying program, for patent
infringement. 321 and its DVD Copy program have been in and out of the
courts for a while; the company started the litigation with a suit which
attempted to obtain a ruling stating that its products do not violate the
DMCA. The bringing of a patent suit changes the nature of this battle,
however. It is a living demonstration of one of the free software
community's deepest fears: that software patents will be used to prevent us
from programming our computers to work the way we want them to.
It is interesting to note that patents are incompatible with trade
secrets. Patent applications require full disclosure of the technology for
which protection is sought; any technology which has been publicly
disclosed in this manner cannot, by definition, be a trade secret. Thus
far, we have been unable to turn up a reference for the exact patent which
is being claimed by the DVDCCA; if anybody has a pointer, we would
appreciate hearing about it. Given the timing, however, the patent application must
have been in the works while the trade secret case was pending. Filing
trade secret suits while having already disclosed the relevant technology
would be, at the least, an act of bad faith.
321 Studios is also being sued by Macrovision, which is also claiming
patent infringement along with DMCA violations. 321 has just filed a
response pointing out that, among other things, Macrovision's patents
cover an analog copy-protection mechanism which is not relevant to a
digital copying program.
This company has been fighting many of the same digital rights battles as
the free software community. But there has been no big outpouring of
support for 321 studios; for the most part, its battles have been ignored.
321 Studios has not been able to obtain the same level of interest and
support as, say, Elcomsoft has.
One might point out that 321 Studios is a proprietary software company;
that is true, but so is Elcomsoft. The real answer, perhaps, is that the
community has sensed that 321 Studios does not really share its values; 321
appears to have little interest in any issues beyond immediate sales of DVD
The difference in values has just become rather more apparent, however; see
press release from February 5. Therein, 321 notes that one of its
customers was said to be using DVDXCopy for "piracy." The company
responded by shutting down the software remotely. This program, it seems,
puts a watermark into every disk it creates allowing the company to
identify who performed the copy and, should it feel so inclined, to shut
down the software altogether.
This feature highlights one of the largest differences between free
software and (at least some of) its proprietary relatives. The DeCSS code
does not come with watermarking and remote shutdown capabilities. The Gimp
will not attempt to prevent its users from creating an image that might
look like some nations' currencies, and Ghostscript will not try to prevent
that user from printing such images. Neither Freevo nor MythTV will phone
home with details of just how often the user replayed the latest banal
Superbowl publicity stunt. Nothing prevents anybody from coding any such
features, but, equally, nothing prevents the rest of the world from taking
them back out. Free software evolves toward one specific end: meeting the
needs of its users. There is no room for conflicts of interest, no space
for the agendas of industry consortia, advertisers, or governments.
321 Studios is not fighting for that view of the software universe; the
company simply wants to be able to sell its product. We can certainly
sympathize with the company as it deals with familiar problems like the
DMCA and software patents. But, while 321 is fighting many of the same
battles as the free software community, it is fighting them as part of a
Comments (5 posted)
Let us start off this week's SCO update with some quotes:
SCO has since backed off the billing plan, but the company is
still serious about enforcing its copyrights, said Chris Sontag,
senior vice president in charge of SCO's legal efforts. He said
lawsuits targeting Linux users will be filed within 90 days, with
initial suits targeting 1,500 companies that have significant
-- ZDNet, November
If someone says they want to see a court ruling before they pay,
we'll say, "Fine, you're the lucky winner. We'll take you
first.' I'd be surprised if we make it to the end of the year
without filing a lawsuit.
McBride, November 24, 2003
So we have basically said within the next few weeks, by February
18th we are going to be in the courtroom with an end user to go
through the copyright-related problems that we are having from an
McBride, February 2, 2004
There are many more quotes available on this theme, but certainly the idea
is clear by now. Like so many other bits of SCO bluster, the threats of
suits against end users have not been followed up by any sort of action.
Whether such a suit will eventually come remains an open question,
however. SCO is currently fighting IBM, Red Hat, and Novell in three
separate cases, and none of the three appear to be going particularly
well. At some point SCO's management should be forced to conclude that the
company simply does not have the resources to open any more legal fronts.
Dividing SCO's scarce cash and (possibly not so scarce) lawyers among even
more courtrooms would not appear to be a wise strategy.
On the other hand, few people have accused SCO of acting wisely in recent
times. The company is due to post a quarterly earnings report that, by all
estimates, will be dismal. SCO stock is well below the peak values it
hit in September and October. The mainstream media is beginning to wake
up, and its coverage is increasingly hostile. SCO's only hope for
continued existence would appear to be to somehow shake money out of
some easily-cowed Linux users, but those users are proving to have rather
more backbone than SCO may have anticipated. The SCO Group may yet decide
that its best interests lie in even more litigation.
One view into how the shakedown effort is proceeding can be found in Red Hat's
motion to supplement its filings in its suit against SCO. That case is
(still!) waiting for the judge to come to a conclusion on SCO's motion to
dismiss the case, which was filed in September. Since then, a few things
have happened which have made it increasingly clear that SCO does, indeed,
intend to go after Red Hat and its customers. Red Hat's motion is an
attempt to bring SCO's more recent actions to the judge's attention.
One of the things Red Hat is pointing out is a
letter sent by SCO to Lehman Brothers Holdings. It is a variant on the
standard SCO shakedown letter; the point here is that Lehman Brothers is a
Red Hat customer. Happily, Lehman Brothers saw no point in giving in to
response is short and clear, and is best paraphrased as "go bug Red
Part of the problem for SCO is that Novell's claims on the Unix copyrights
make it easy for prospective SCO victims to ignore the letters. If SCO
can't put forward a clear claim to the Unix copyrights, it will have a hard
time collecting from anybody regardless of the validity of its statements
about the provenance of Linux. For that reason, the company was compelled
to file suit against Novell, in hopes of clearing that obstruction.
Unfortunately for SCO, Novell has filed a compelling motion to dismiss the
suit. Essentially, says Novell, the SCO suit is missing two things that
are required in "slander of title" suits: proof that the defendant's
statements are false, and a demonstration that actual damages have been
suffered. As Novell points out, SCO's demand that the court force Novell
to transfer the copyrights proves that Novell's claims are true; SCO's suit
contradicts itself. See Groklaw
for a far more detailed discussion of Novell's motion.
Meanwhile, as of this writing, the Utah court still has not issued any
rulings regarding the motions to compel in the IBM case. There is no way
to know what this delay means until the court speaks. Chances are it will
be something interesting, however.
Comments (6 posted)
The review of Gecko-based browsers
last week generated a great deal of feedback; this is evidently an area of
great interest to many users. We have just a few things to add to that
review this time around.
Thanks primarily to reader comments, your editor was able to resolve almost
all of his complaints with the Firefox browser. Image animation can be
controlled via the user-hostile about:config screen, the
prefs.js file found in a randomly-named directory under
~/.phoenix, or via plugin extensions. Antialiased fonts are to be
had by downloading the correct version of the browser. And so on. The
situation has improved to the point where your editor is now using Firefox
as his preferred browser.
The real key to the success of Firefox may well prove to be its extension
architecture. History has shown many times that, if an application
provides an easy mechanism for users to graft in additional or different
functionality, those users will run with it. The lengthy list of extensions
available for Firefox shows that this browser has reached a critical mass
in this regard. Extensions are available to provide all kinds of
navigation tools, to help with weblogging, to assist in web page authoring,
and many other tasks including, inevitably, playing Tetris. It would be
nice not to have to go find an extension to replace the missing "up"
navigation button, but it's nice that you can. One can only hope
that the security implications of encouraging users to download and install
browser plugins have been thought through.
If last week's review were to be written today, the conclusion
might have been written a little differently. Firefox has a level of
performance, reliability, and features that well exceeds the other
Gecko-based browsers available. One might well wonder why Galeon and
Epiphany continue to exist; they appear to be trying to do the same thing
as Firefox but - at this moment in time, anyway - they do it less reliably
and with fewer features. (Do see, however, this posting on why Red Hat is shipping
Epiphany for a different view).
As we noted last week, there could well be a
place for multiple browser projects, but each should be looking for a
unique way to extend the state of the art.
Meanwhile, your editor also found the time to get Konqueror 3.2 working. Konqueror is
everything its proponents claim it is: a fast, powerful and robust tool for
navigating through information, be it on the local system or on the net.
Your editor has never had much use for file managers, and so does not place
much value on Konqueror's implementation. He can see, however, that
Konqueror does look like a very nice file manager. The web browser is
capable and fast, and highly configurable. Some features, such as the
ability to change the identification string to get past certain difficult
web site programmers, are unique.
What Konqueror still seems to be lacking, however is a password manager.
Security-conscious users may feel better off without this feature, but the
simple fact is that it has gotten hard to keep track of the long list of
usernames and passwords needed to access many useful sites on the web. A
password manager can be most useful when trying to remember which login
information was used to get into some obscure site with its own strange
rules. It is surprising, really, that Konqueror has not picked up this
That notwithstanding, if Konqueror were the only browser available for
Linux systems, we would be in good shape. Linux is second to no other
system now in the quality of its web browsing support. It will be more
than interesting to see where things go from here as the various projects
look for new ways to extend the state of the art.
Comments (20 posted)
The 2004 edition of the Free and Open Source
will be happening on February 21 and 22 in
LWN editor Jonathan Corbet will be there. In a moment of weakness last
month (he blames Australian wine), he agreed to give two different talks at
the event. Happily, FOSDEM has three tracks this year, so it should be
possible to avoid those talks and see something interesting. The schedule
details. Keynote speakers include Tim O'Reilly, Richard Stallman, and, of
course, Jon 'maddog' Hall. FOSDEM looks to be an interesting event.
For the first time, LWN is happy to be sponsoring this event. With luck,
this sponsorship will allow us to help a community event while
simultaneously bringing in more subscribers. If things work out, we'll be
sponsoring more events in the future.
Meanwhile, we're looking forward to meeting some of our European readers;
see you there.
Comments (2 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Another mremap() hole; New vulnerabilities in elm, metamail, phpMyAdmin, samba, ...
- Kernel: Character encodings; <tt>invalidate_mmap_range()</tt> and proprietary modules; The end of 24-bit <tt>atomic_t</tt>.
- Distributions: Glimpses of Fedora Core 2; Fastest growing Linux distro; New: bioknoppix, Mandows, Medialinux
- Development: KBarcode - the open-source barcode solution,
new versions of CLORB, Firebird, MySQL, ZODB, jackEQ, GNOME development,
XFree86, SQL-Ledger, KimDaBa, Inkscape, Sodipodi, Wine, Digikam, Galeon,
BloGTK, OpenMCL, PHP, Stackless, dejaGnu.
- Press: Open letter to Darl McBride, Intel improves Linux support, Oracle developers
use Linux, FOSDEM interviews, SpamAssassin Quickstart, OSS in Space.
- Announcements: Open Source in South Africa, Mozilla Europe, IBM Q104 Software Evaluation Kit,
LSB-FHS 2.3 Beta, Open Source Business Conference 2004,
GNU/Linux Summit 2004, PostgreSQLFr.org.
- Letters: Firefox review; Microsoft code and Bugtraq; SCO's "five reasons".