DVDs and TPMs: how often is CSS used?

On June 2, the Canadian government tabled Bill C-32, its third attempt to implement anti-circumvention laws and other changes to the Copyright Act of Canada. The proposed changes would significantly impact the way Canadians are allowed to interact with copyrighted works stored in digital form, such as movies stored on DVDs. Not much information is available on the DVD situation in particular so there is significant uncertainty as to whether C-32 prohibits DVD backups (as an example):

  • xentac: “with BillC32 can I buy DVDs and rip them…?”; Tony Clement: “So long as no TPM”
  • Drew Wilson: “If you have a home movie recorded on a DVD and you back that movie up…, you’ve broken the anti-circumvention law.”; anonymous commenter: “This isn’t correct. Home movies you burn onto a DVD-R/RW are not CSS encrypted, only commercial DVDs are.”

By “CSS”, the anonymous commenter means Content Scramble System, an optional method of obfuscating the data on DVDs (what some would call DRM). CSS seems to be a “technological protection measure” (TPM) according to C-32 (“any effective technology, device or component that, in the ordinary course of its operation, controls access to a work…”) so I will proceed under this assumption. Hopefully someone closer to the bill can comment on the validity of this assumption.

To provide some clarity to the issue of which DVDs are encumbered by CSS (and thus could not be legally backed up or used for fair dealing under C-32), I analyzed 66 DVDs in my household’s DVD collection to determine if they used CSS. Here are the results:
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What WebM means for web video

Today Google launched WebM (project page), a royalty-free video format consisting of the WebM container (a “subset of the Matroska multimedia container format”), the VP8 video codec (acquired by Google when it purchased On2 Technologies), and Xiph.Org Foundation‘s Vorbis audio codec. Thanks to Google’s many WebM-related partnerships with hardware and software companies, we may finally have a codec that breaks through the codec logjam. Here’s why:
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Apple investigation: tackling the wrong problem

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that the DoJ and FTC are deciding who will investigate Apple for its developer agreement changes, which mandate that “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript”. Despite my previous interest in App Store approvals, this particular piece of news did not interest me at all. I’ll tell you why: While this antitrust investigation may seem like a great way to increase competition in the mobile app space, it does nothing to solve the root of the problem — that anti-circumvention laws effectively allow Apple to control which applications are legally allowed to run on the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, blocking applications it believes will compete with Apple’s or its partner’s products.

Never before has such a highly-visible platform denied software developers the right to provide their software to the platform’s users. Windows and Mac OS do not prevent users from running the software of their choice, though they may warn the user that the software is not trusted. Ultimately, the choice remains in the user’s hands, unlike it is with the App Store, where the choice remains mostly in Apple’s hands. With the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, users are not even permitted to obtain software from sources outside the App Store. Running applications of the user’s choice is called jailbreaking and is effectively illegal in countries with anti-circumvention laws (like the US DMCA’s Section 103) because running such applications requires the user to disable Apple’s (weak) restriction mechanisms.

The best way for governments to legislate against the anti-competitive practices of Apple and other monopolistic gatekeepers is to remove the defective legislation that allowed it in the first place. Only when circumvention is permitted, allowing users to install the applications on their choice and not just the ones Apple says they can, will true competition be possible. I’ve encouraged Canada to do so and I hope other governments will follow suit.

Apple, Adobe, and “open”

Today Apple CEO Steve Jobs posted Thoughts on Flash, explaining why Apple will not allow Adobe Flash Player on iPhones, iPods and iPads. In the post, Jobs makes the following assertion:

Adobe claims that we are a closed system, and that Flash is open, but in fact the opposite is true.

So according to Jobs, Apple is open and Flash is closed. But according to a WSJ interview with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Flash is the open one:

I find it amusing, honestly. Flash is an open specification.

So who is really open?
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Realizing the potential of fiber-to-the-home

In North America, getting a decent Internet connection usually means comparing the two options (for 78% of Americans – see main article), which tend to be DSL from the local telco or cable Internet from the cable company. Providing an Internet connection over telephone lines or cable is a hack, as both were built to transmit specific types of information in analog form: point-to-point voice and broadcast video, respectively. The physical layout of the wires also reflects the use case: a star topology in the case of telephone, for communicating directly with the telco, and a ring topology in the case of cable, used to reduce the amount of wire, since all nodes were receiving the same information. Neither of these is ideal for an Internet connection, as the speed of DSL drops the further you are from the telco building and the bandwidth available to cable subscribers is necessarily shared with your neighbors. Other options exist, but are similarly limited. Broadband over power lines is not widely deployed and satellite broadband has high latency and degrades in adverse weather conditions.

Fiber-to-the-home is gradually replacing these other methods of providing consumer Internet connections. However, not all fiber services are created equal. Here are the main areas where fiber deployments differ (from each other and from cable/DSL), some that you would expect and some you might not:
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My new Core i5 and Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha

This post will document my new computer, which I assembled last weekend, as well as my experiences with Ubuntu 10.04 Alpha 3 on it so far. I hope that this will be useful for others that want to build a system like mine and for those that want to learn a bit about the latest version of Ubuntu.
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How to install GCC on the Nokia N900

I finally got around to installing GCC on my Nokia N900 today (using Maemo 5). I found it more challenging than I expected so I figured it would be nice to share how I did it.
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Are web standards the new OS APIs?

The arrival of the following two posts on the same day is just too ironic for me not to write about:

More and more it seems that APIs which have existed for decades on all POSIX systems (which includes all popular OSes except Windows) are being re-implemented as web standards. This is an interesting trend, which I think is being fueled by a confluence of factors:
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My copyright consultation submission

I made a submission for Canada’s copyright consultation yesterday, which is reproduced below. If you haven’t made a submission yet, you still have time; the government has extended the deadline until tomorrow night. Their website includes full details on how to send in a submission. Without further ado, here is my submission:

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Seamless web video within reach

Images on the web have been a solved problem for many years. Web designers know they can insert a JPEG, PNG, or GIF file with <img> and it will work in virtually all browsers. Video, on the other hand, is much more difficult to provide. There are a range of formats and none are universally supported across browsers. Inserting video should be as easy as inserting an image: just make sure the video is in the right format and use <video> to place it. While we’re not there yet, such a reality could be closer than you think.
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