Hackers win round one!
November 2, 2001 7:46 AM   Subscribe

Hackers win round one! Feel free to post DeCSS to this thread; it is no longer illegal.
What, if anything, does this mean to the movie industry?
posted by TiggleTaggleTiger (14 comments total)
Actually, hackers lost round one of what I think was a different fight. The decision you mention is DVDCCA v. Bunner, and concerns California state trade secret law. There is another ongoing action in New York between the MPAA and 2600 Magazine.

I don't suggest posting DeCSS. Charges can still be brought against anyone at anytime under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
posted by tranquileye at 8:04 AM on November 2, 2001

Let's presume for a moment that the MPAA and DVDCCA don't believe the deceit pumped out by their own PR guys, and realize that DeCSS has absolutely no impact on piracy - bit for bit copies of DVDs still work. The CSS algorithm isn't about piracy control, it's about use control - it allows the industry cartel behind the closed DVD standard to determine who gets to play DVDs. DeCSS allows the construction of DVD player software and hardware as if DVD were a true open standard - without the blessing of the cartel. These open DVD players don't necessarily have to play along with the cartel's other "content protection" efforts, such as region coding.

(Actually, they still do, because under DMCA any use or distribution of a circumvention device such as DeCSS can land you in prison. This is largely because Section 1201 of the DMCA is wholly unconstitutional by exercising prior restraint on First Amendment rights, as defined in this ruling by the California appeals court. IANAL, YMMV. I used to be a lot more pissed off about DMCA before our esteemed representatives rammed through the USA PATRIOT bill, which makes the DMCA look positively libertarian by comparison. But I digress.)

If the offending sections of the DMCA are overturned (which this precedent makes all the more possible), then the movie industry has two options: one, go to a whole lot of trouble to devise a new CSS that isn't such a joke, cryptographically speaking, that it can't withstand more than a token attack from a semi-motivated teenager; or two, compete in the open market without the protection of the MPAA cartel's bought law.
posted by Vetinari at 8:33 AM on November 2, 2001

Does this mean we will get even more SPAM offers of software to copy DVDs to CDs? I just counted 81 messages in my SPAM trap with 3 subject titles.

But I like the precedent. Maybe it will overrule some of those dumb software patents, too. One click shopping - sure sounds like free speech to me.
posted by Geo at 8:39 AM on November 2, 2001

posted by BlitzK at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2001

> Eventually code will become everyday speech. Just
> compare, oh say, Fortran to C.

You see an evolutionary trend here? Somehow I don't notice C being a whole lot more like everyday speech than Fortran was. (Unless you take two hackers talking to each other in C as an example of everyday speech.)
posted by jfuller at 9:14 AM on November 2, 2001

fortran to c is more an evolution of computing -- fortran was designed to be very efficiently parsed, because at the time computers did not have much processing power to spare. c is a much saner design (keywords are not in upper case; there is no required margin; etc.), sure, but there are many programming languages with even more interesting features.

i have to disagree with skallas on the assumption that programming languages are evolving towards everyday speech; that is not my experience at all. in fact, i would say that the field of programming languages is stuck in a rut: academics constantly produce cutting edge, interesting languages based on newer theories, but industries stick with the same shit -- C, C++, java, RPG, COBOL. java is the relative newcomer, but its syntax is so close to C++ that it was more of a sidestep on the road toward everyday speech.

my honest opinion is that there is no need for a programming language to be defined as everyday speech. everyday speech would be very limiting. with the way that most languages are structured today, the features of languages can be considered "well-defined" (to use an academic term). if i want to create a theoretical class in C++, i know exactly how to approach the situation. everyday speech would require you to be very verbose so as not to confuse the compiler:

computer, i'd like an object that should have a variable called 'x' which is an integer, and a variable 'y' which is a character. 'y' should not be a signed variable, by the way. oh, do you think i could have another variable? call it 's' -- it'll be a string!

when i could just say:

struct st {
int x;
unsigned char y;
char *s;

the latter is not just easier on the computer, i think it's easier on me.
posted by moz at 9:44 AM on November 2, 2001

Eventually code will become everyday speech. Just compare, oh say, Fortran to C.

This will come long after we completely understand how the brain's computational system works. And we're nowhere near that.

Semantics is hard. I took a course on it - we spent a week on "and" and two on "or" as used in everyday speech. Boolean logic is great for a computer, but we're not computers. There's also an incredible amount of pragmatics (real-world knowledge) that goes into interpretation.

Example: "Susan is going to the dance with Billy or Tom."
Throw this to a computer, using 'or' in the programmer's sense, and Susan could conceivably show up with a boy on both arms. What makes us cool is we know that it's unlikely that people go to dances with two dates, so we impose the programmer's 'xor' on the structure. There's a big debate as to if our "or" means 'or' or 'xor.' And this is just in English, other languages deal with this differently.

Take a class in linguistics or buy a book or something. This stuff is incredibly hard. I think it's a lot more likely that we'll start speaking in code than computers will understand us.
posted by phoenix enflamed at 11:14 AM on November 2, 2001

Isn't this round two? I mean, this is the appeal and everything...
posted by delmoi at 11:19 AM on November 2, 2001

Example: "Susan is going to the dance with Billy or Tom."

Yeah. Another great example is "I want to send a mailing to all our customers in zip codes 98036 and 98037." If you translate this request literally to Boolean logic (zip = 98036 and zip = 98037) the computer will print out a list of zero customers because not one customer is in both zip codes.
posted by kindall at 12:43 PM on November 2, 2001

Who cares? Movies on DVD are $15. The cost and trouble of buying blank DVD's and a burner (still pricey) aren't really worth it right now. I've got to admit part of the fun is buying the movie, having the original package, etc. It somehow cheapens it any other way for me....
posted by jessie at 12:49 PM on November 2, 2001

Um, jessie, I think you missed the point. Re-read Vetinari's post above; the DeCSS is/was an attempt to play perfectly normal DVD's without using some of the encryption/regional encoding standards the "cartel" enacted- it wasn't really about piracy. I suppose it could be seen as helping piracy in a sense, in that if the closed DVD standard owners decided to start implementing customer-unfriendly things like the original DiVX (I believe it was DiVX) where you'd pay-for-play, or where your insertion of a DVD without reporting its ownership back to a centralized database (a la Windows XP) might be detected or prohibited by the machinery, DeCSS and its kin could help sidestep that.
posted by hincandenza at 2:03 PM on November 2, 2001

(sigh of relief, temporary only)
posted by mmarcos at 3:34 PM on November 2, 2001

I just wrote a paper about the Supreme Court history when it comes to copyright issues, and here's some interesting data:

The Supreme Court has never thrown out a copyright law or statute because it "violated free speech"

Under Wheaton v. Peters (1843), you as a user have no natural right to the secondary market, to personal use, or to choose when and where you should be able to look at a copyrighted material, unless Congressional law says you can. (Interestingly, until the DMCA, supreme court precedent would've allowed things like DeCSS (see Fortnightly v. United Artists or CBS v. Teleprompter)

I was writing more specifically about the supreme court dealing with the copyright clause and not the free speech clause of the Const., I think that it's going to be very hard to sway the supreme court toward upholding this ruling, should the case go that far. Our best bet is to get Congress to modify the DMCA.
posted by Kevs at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2001

where your insertion of a DVD without reporting its ownership back to a centralized database (a la Windows XP) might be detected or prohibited by the machinery

The death of private ownership. From now on, everything that's yours is only borrowed. Economic feudalism. Enjoy.
posted by rushmc at 6:29 PM on November 2, 2001

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