DRM: January 2009 Archives


January 31, 2009

A while back I wrote about Blizzard's suit against MDY, which produces a WoW bot called Glider. Blizzard sued MDY and the judge in the case just ruled that MDY violated the DMCA. (Ars Technica article here; ruling here, link thanks to Joseph Calandrino). I'm not a lawyer but as far as I can tell from reading the ruling, the reasoning is that the visual and audio elements that emerge from the act of playing WoW constitute a copyrighted work, the warden (WoW's anti-bot measure) controls access to that copyrighted work, and Glider allows you to circumvent that access control, hence it violates the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions.

It's interesting to ask how far you could extend this reasoning. Consider this alternate design for a WoW bot: you run WoW in a VM and then have your bot interact with the VM to scrape the screen, simulate key and mouse presses, etc. [This was originally suggested to me by Terence Spies.] The warden can't detect your bot because it's shielded by the VM (it might detect the VM, but there are legitimate reasons to run WoW in a VM). The VM itself isn't a DMCA violation because it has significant legitimate uses. The bot doesn't have to specifically have any anticircumvention measures to avoid the warden; it just processes the video output and simulates user input. Would the same reasoning still apply in this case?


January 26, 2009

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has introduced the Camera Phone Predator Act that would require camera phones to emit an audible indication whenever a picture is taken:
Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone.

(a) Requirement- Beginning 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, any mobile phone containing a digital camera that is manufactured for sale in the United States shall sound a tone or other sound audible within a reasonable radius of the phone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera in such phone. A mobile phone manufactured after such date shall not be equipped with a means of disabling or silencing such tone or sound.
(b) Enforcement by Consumer Product Safety Commission- The requirement in subsection (a) shall be treated as a consumer product safety standard promulgated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission under section 7 of the Consumer Product Safety Act (15 U.S.C. 2056). A violation of subsection (a) shall be enforced by the Commission under section 19 of such Act (15 U.S.C. 2068).

OK, so the value proposition for this is something like "protects children (think of the children!) from surreptitious photography". Except that it doesn't, because the bill doesn't apply to non-camera phones, which can be made just as small as camera phones, so if you're willing to plonk down $150 or so for a compact camera, you can evade this restriction and get much higher quality pictures. So, we need to sharpen the value proposition somewhat, to something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras."

And of course, despite the "no disabling" provision, it's not like the tone is an essential function of the camera like the sound of a physical shutter release, it's just a speaker. So, unless you're going to totally redesign the phone, the miscreants can just open the phone, disable the speaker, and go to town. It's true this does render your phone useless as a phone, but seeing as used Motorola Razrs (remember, you don't need to connect it to the network) go for $30 or so on eBay, this isn't much of a problem. We need to revise the value proposition yet again to something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras or who don't have $30 and a screwdriver."

Actually, it's even worse than that, since newer camera phones will do video recording, it's going to be pretty unacceptable to have it making an annoying noise the whole time it's being used. So, now we've got something like "protects children from surreptitious photography by people without digital cameras or who don't have $30 and a screwdriver, and whose camera phones don't take video." And let's not even talk about people who are willing to replace the software on their phones.

Other than that, this seems like a great idea.

Acknowledgement: I borrowed this argument technique from Allan Schiffman.