October 13, 2004

GoDVD!, DMCA, Macrovision (from Cites & Insights November 2004)

[Note: Blog items may be sporadic due to problems with my net connection, and time available]

Walt Crawford's "Cites & Insights" high-quality library 'zine has already put out the November 2004 issue.

Besides the discussions of open-access, WikiPedia, etc, one item struck me as deeply interesting (note for this one, the quoting of me arises because I found it so interesting, not the other way around, really):

INTERESTING & PECULIAR PRODUCTS in Cites & Insights 4:12 ended with an item on the Sima GoDVD!, a box that "enhances" analog video so you can convert it to digital form to burn to DVD -- and in the process apparently undoes Macrovision copy protection. I noted that Macrovision's president had suggested that GoDVD! violates DMCA and commented "but that's the wrong law: GoDVD! operates entirely in the analog domain, and VHS is an analog medium, so DMCA simply doesn't apply." Seth Finkelstein, who reads more of the law than I ever will, corrected that sentence. Section 1201k of DMCA relates to "Certain Analog Devices and Certain Technological Measures," and is in effect a provision that protects Macrovision copy protection, called "automatic gain control copy control technology" in the law. It outlaws manufacture, import, offering to the public, providing or otherwise trafficking in VHS VCRs, 8mm analog camcorders, Beta VCRs, 8mm analog VCRs if they ever become popular (sell 20,000 copies in a calendar year in the U.S.), or any other analog VCR using NTSC format. My sentence was wrong--but it can still be argued that GoDVD! doesn't violate DMCA. After all, it isn't a VCR or a camcorder; it's just a video enhancement box.

My emphasis on the last sentence. Here's the interesting issue - the DMCA basically mandates Macrovision in recorders. Macrovision, technically, is basically a "bug" in the video signal. So ... does selling signal-enhancing equipment like the GoDVD! (which specifically corrects that bug) violate the mandate? According to the letter of the law, I'd say no. On the other hand, this looks very much like what a hostile judge would view as a loophole. Or at least fodder for a quick amendment. The DMCA was definitely trying to outlaw the anti-Macrovision functionality which is part of the GoDVD! box.

I suppose the upshot is that even if it's true now that the GoDVD! box does not violate the Macrovision section of the DMCA, I'm not optimistic as to how long it will remain true.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on October 13, 2004 01:40 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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I have a box that eliminates macrovision and is connected between my DVD player and VCR. I have no idea if it is legal, but my use is only to allow me to watch DVDs: I use it merely as a means to connect my DVD player to my TV. My TV has only a HF-in connector, no video/audio in connections.

I have never copied a DVD onto a VHS tape, although the box allows me to do this.

Posted by: whoever at October 15, 2004 06:12 PM

I work for a manufacturer of broadcast equipment, including things like standards convertors, picture stablisers, ADCs, and everything else needed by a modern TV station.

Without our equipment (or equivalents), you cannot put a TV channel out on the air (or the cable). With it, you can remove MacroVision and equivalent signals without any sign of tampering. Is our gear now illegal, since some of it is *designed* to remove MacroVision (so that you can get the best possible picture from VHS to pro equipment, for shows that request tapes from viewers)?

Posted by: Simon Farnsworth at October 18, 2004 05:49 AM