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MPAA to Senate: Plug the Analog Hole! 734

A month ago, the MPAA filed its report [PDF] with the Senate Judiciary Committee on the terrors of analog copying. I quote: "in order to help plug the hole, watermark detectors would be required in" -- are you sitting down? -- "all devices that perform analog to digital conversions." At their page Protecting Creative Works in a Digital Age, the Senate lays out the issues they'll be looking at, including briefs from corporate groups, and provides a comment form so your opinion can be heard as well. As Cory Doctorow writes: "this is a much more sweeping (and less visible) power-grab than the Hollings Bill, and it's going forward virtually unopposed. ...the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group is bare weeks away from turning over a veto on new technologies to Hollywood." Doctorow's article on the "analog hole" for the EFF does a great job of explaining the issues to non-electrical-engineers, and has many thought-provoking examples of how requiring such technology would be a giant step backwards.
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MPAA to Senate: Plug the Analog Hole!

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  • ADC chips (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 24, 2002 @09:57AM (#3578605)
    As an electrical engineer student, I have built my own A/D converter circuit along with a sample and hold to signal inputs and put them into the computer. They are relatively simple both in overall design and the ADC chips themselves are also very simple: only about 16 pins with a single input and several outputs to represent the input voltage as a binary number. It is both ludicrous and impossible to convert this into something that checks a "digital watermark". Forget the linked article's references to how your cell phone would turn off if it were on near a copyrighted song.

    A huge portion of our technology involves A/D chips. Your car uses one for the speedometer, for the fuel injection, etc. Digital audio amplifiers use it. VCR's use it. Any and all digital sensors use it. Adding in digital watermark checking functionality would increase the complexity of this simple, ubiquitous and cheap chip (prolly less than 10 cents, but that's just a guess) several orders of magnitude. It would be like the difference between your solar powered calculator and your desktop. Expenses in electronics industries would jump to compensate for this added complexity, because unlike the movie industry they operate very close to full efficiency.

    In short, there is absolutely no way to make this request by the MPAA workable. None at all. Their execs wanting to control A/D conversion is just indicative of how far removed from reality they are. Unfortunately, that might not prevent them from convincing congress to allow this idiocy to go through, so i STRONGLY recommend submitting in the feedback form that NO you don't support it, and furthermore there is only one rational viewpoint on it. Feel free adopt my examples or argument.

    Other examples of A/D :
    How the telephone company decodes the tones when you press a button into a number
    How digital cell phones work
    How fax machines work
    Digital medical equipment (measuring blood pressure, heartbeat, etc)
    Literally any digital sensor
    Your themostat in your house
  • Re:Ridiculous! (Score:2, Informative)

    by zbuffered ( 125292 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:05AM (#3578665)
    There are solid state microcassette-style recorders. They record the data, compress it, and store it in flash memory, or something like it. They're actually quite common.
  • by yasth ( 203461 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:15AM (#3578717) Homepage Journal
    Well here is a pdf [] (google html []) lab experiment that looks to be fairly simple. It certainly isn't that hard.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:20AM (#3578734)
    Wouldn't it be possible to watermark a recording of silence and play it loud enough to disrupt all recordings for miles?

    No it wouldn't be possible. Silence is copyright 1952 by John Cage. []
  • Re:So...... (Score:3, Informative)

    by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @10:42AM (#3578956) Homepage
    NPR's Morning edition show. I listened to it on the way into work and heard that off a tape of the dudes speach.
  • Re:So...... (Score:2, Informative)

    by CatPieMan ( 460995 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @11:04AM (#3579115)
    Before you go bashing Republicans too much, just remember that senator "disney" is a Democrat. I personally can't think of anyone who has sold out more than he has


  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @11:12AM (#3579177) Homepage
    > How hard can it be to simply build a decent converter from scratch? Or,
    > is this an unusually difficult task?

    Take a D-to-A converter - and wire it up to
    an analog comparator. The comparator outputs
    (say) a '1' when the incoming analog signal is
    larger than the output of the D-to-A, '0' when
    it's smaller.

    Now, connect up a counter to the input of the
    D-to-A. Arrange for the counter to start at
    zero and gradually increase the voltage coming
    out of the D-to-A until the comparator says '0'.

    Note the value of the counter...that's the
    measure of the incoming voltage.

    Then reset the counter and do it all over again.

    ...only do it MUCH faster than that! :-)

    A counter could be a piece of software and a
    D-to-A converter could be a bunch of resistors
    soldered across your parallel port - or it
    could be the output of your sound card. An
    analog comparator can be a diode.

    This approach works OK for audio signals - but
    it would be hard to make it work at video
    frequencies. However, there are plenty of
    other ways to build an A-to-D, but I rather
    like the elegance of the one I just described.

    In short - "No, it's not unusually difficult".
  • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @11:39AM (#3579413) Homepage
    Legislators often won't consider exactly how basic the technology they're banning is; if you want an example, look at firearms. Do you know how complicated zip guns are? Not very, and though they aren't useful at a distance, inside a few feet they're deadly.

    Do you have any faucet washers in your tool drawer? Beware; they could be called "silencer parts", and people have been prosecuted for it. The same is true of auto muffler parts.
  • by danro ( 544913 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @12:56PM (#3579927) Homepage
    Unfortunately, until the campaign financing laws are changed in our supposedly superior western democracies to prevent corporations or lobby groups from buying politicians (and legislation), we should not expect the politicians to act on our concerns.

    Despite what you might think other western democracies doesn't share the US campaign finance system. Many european countries have have wildly different systems, as well as some cultural election differences.
    For example, in my country most of the parties expenses are paid with taxes. Now, don't scream: "Communists, I knew it!" just jet (we are not).
    The law guaranties the parties a pretty handsome budget if they get more than 4% of the votes. The more votes, the more cash. I'd argue that this is good because it reduces the need for the parties to whore for company money. Getting votes has a direct monetary reward attached to it!
    IMHO that is worth the extra taxes if it pays for a government that is more responsive to the people.

    Of course this isn't an ideal system either. Of course, we still have our share of trouble and corrupt (or more commonly just plain incompetent) politicians.

    However, it would be interesting to see what this kind of system would do to the US political system.
    ...though i realise this would probably be a hard sell in the US. What? Pay the darn politicians MORE money? Hell no!

    I wonder what kind of effect it would have though...
  • Re:Are they crazy? (Score:5, Informative)

    by marcop ( 205587 ) < minus author> on Friday May 24, 2002 @01:56PM (#3580293) Homepage
    How's this? I will send it as soon as I can figure out their stupid "ODBC error".

    I offer a consumer's viewpoint on a copy protection mechanism. Both of my examples have to deal with Macrovision, a copy protection scheme that has been around for years. I would hope that from my examples you will notice the frustration I have as a consumer with poorly implemented copy protection technology.

    Example #1: I own a video capture card: a Matrox Marvel G400. I use it to capture analog video obtained from my analog Hi-8 camcorder into digital form for 1) preservation of the video, and 2) transferring of the video onto a compact disc (Video CD format). Having the video on a Video CD (VCD) allows me to play my home movies on a DVD player that supports VCDs. Using computer software I can add special effects and menus to my videos. The finished product is quite impressive and I don't have to do deal with storing my home movies on bulky, deteriorating VHS tapes.

    Here's my run in with Macrovision. Since I capture my own home movies there shouldn't be any Macrovision problems since Macrovision is not present on the camcorder's video. One would think that, but I do have problems. Matrox's software prevents recording of video that contains Macrovision. They state that this is a legal requirement. During scene transitions (places where I hit the pause-record button on the camcorder) the video contains a little bit of flicker. The flicker is an artifact of pausing the camcorder. Matrox's software interprets this flicker as Macrovision and stops capturing. To solve this I have to capture my video in bits and pieces, split at any scene where I pressed the pause button on my camcorder. I then have to use software to combine the many parts of video into one video file.

    Another solution would be to use a hacked Matrox driver I found on the Internet that allows my capture card to ignore the Macrovision requirement. However, doing that would make me a criminal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, DMCA, and open me up to a 6 figure fine and years in prison. By the way, do violent criminals get this type of punishment for their crimes?

    Example #2: I had to hook up my father's DVD player to his 10 year old (but high end) TV. His TV only has coaxial style connectors for video input. The DVD player doesn't have this type of connector, rather it has RCA style phono jacks. Therefore to connect his DVD player I thought to plug the DVD player's phono jack into a VCR's phono jack. The VCR would act as an RF modulator and convert the signal to the video signal of coaxial style connector. I tried it but it didn't work. The problem was that the Macrovision protection somehow activated itself because I passed the signal through a VCR. Therefore, the picture was very dark. The Solution was to buy a video stabilizer (a questionably legal product depending on who is talking) that removes the Macrovision protection and place it in between the DVD player and the VCR. It works, but technically speaking I broke the law.

    I ran into the same scenario for my own entertainment system. My TV does have an RCA style phono jack on the back but it is currently being used. My solution was to buy a switch to switch between the DVD player and the other device. This is not a high-tech solution. Instead of being able to use a remote control to select the signal source for the TV I have to use a mechanical switch. I am not saying that I am lazy and don't want to get up to switch the video source, I have to wonder why I have to down-grade my entertainment system because of flawed copy protection technology.

    Hopefully you see from my two examples that Macrovision is not a transparent copy protection scheme for my use. It is intrusive and it annoys me. Although I have solutions to enable use of my equipment in a perfectly legal and intended way, I have to break the law (the DMCA) in order to do so. Current proposed legislation (SSSCA/CDBTPA) will be even more intrusive, and thus more annoying. I am against buying any electronic equipment that contains the proposed level of copyright protection that the legislation imposes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 24, 2002 @02:38PM (#3580539)
    Please, learn how to use that apostrophe correctly.
  • by medeii ( 472309 ) on Friday May 24, 2002 @02:51PM (#3580613)
    Here's the comment I submitted:

    The CBDTPA is something that the government should not be involved in. The bill should be dropped immediately. The measure is not about copyright protection, but the protection of a stagnant industry unwilling to adapt its business model to new technology.

    The technology industry is, to quote a widely circulated figure, a $600 billion behemoth. It arguably funds more jobs in two years than the $35 billion per annum entertainment industry does in twenty. However, the entertainment industry has an erroneous belief that it is entitled to legal protection from future challengers, and this bill is proof that fair use is nothing to be considered when profits are at stake.

    Mainly, the crux of the issue is the purpose of computing devices. Computers have three main purposes: to read, write, and copy data. The entertainment industry is proposing nothing less than complete destruction of one of those three purposes, and for what? To protect their monopoly on an image of an animated character for a few more years? The idea strains--no, breaks--the limits of rational thought.

    Contrary to the statements of Hollywood, computers are far more than expensive media devices. Their uses range far beyond playing audio or video clips; they are also instruments for content creation, for creativity and development. One wonders that if such "solutions" to copyright infringement were in place a few years ago, whether some recent movies (i.e. Shrek) could have even been developed. Given the heavy use of parody in that film, the answer is no.

    Under this proposed bill, creating anything will become prohibitively expensive for the common person. Disregarding other obvious problems regarding the feasibility of such solutions (and the lack of appropriate technology to create them), this bill places inordinate constraints on technology with numerous legitimate uses to allay the fears of a small industry.

    The entertainment industry seeks to exercise complete control over its content, trampling on the fair use rights of consumers and users everywhere. The CBDTPA is a product of monopolistic practices by a group of companies unwilling to submit to market forces. It should not be debated nor even considered; it is not viable, it is inefficient, and it is wholly irresponsible.

    Let industries solve their own problems. Congress has no right, and no responsibility, to ensure the continued profitability of any company or monopoly.

VMS must die!