[Linux-aus] FTA circumvention devices

Anthony Towns aj at azure.humbug.org.au
Fri Mar 5 13:11:39 UTC 2004

On Fri, Mar 05, 2004 at 10:46:01AM +1100, Rusty Russell wrote:
> Looks like the US Trade Agreement (consciously avoiding the 'Free' here)
> curbs free software immediately through disallowing DVD playing 

To the best of my knowledge this is already disallowed; the difference
being that with the FTA, it'll (potentially) be harder to change it to
being allowed.

> and whatever future technologies the industry comes up with, 

Emulation and accessing media are the only things I can think of that
can be blocked by TPMs; so I'm not sure that there it'll be possible to
come up with future things that also cause problems that don't look like
essentially like DVDs.

> In particular, note that the treaty explicity endorses novel
> combinations of existing ideas (eg. selling books WITH A COMPUTER!).

Selling books a "novel" idea? Who'd'a thunk it? :)

> Needless to say, it's pretty much what we feared.  I would think that
> the widening of patents is worth hundreds of millions to the US, and
> when you include the legal fees the battles will incurr, could add up to
> billions in costs for Australia.

That sounds exaggerated to me, unless you're multiplying out by years
and years and years, in which case any number you could make up would
be justifiable.

> The damage to Free Software should
> Microsoft or "Technology" companies go after us will potentially cost
> many more millions.

If actual technology companies go after us, our supporters, like HP and
IBM can make use of their patents and licensing agreements in the usual
defensive manner, since you can't go after us without also going after
them these days. The real nuisance with these sorts of patents is the
risk that stupid little companies who _don't_ make a product at all get
patents on useful ideas, and block anyone from implementing them.

> Depressed,
> Rusty.

I don't think we're actually all that much worse off with these conditions
than we are at the moment -- we're pretty badly off as is on most of these
things, anyway. And I'm hopeful, although not necessarily optimistic, that
we can get some concessions added in that'll actually improve the situation.

My list would be:

	* general fair use provisions in exchange for increased copyright
	  terms, and stronger protection for authors.

	* a specific allowance/exemption for the creation/import/distribution
	  of open source software that plays DVDs.

	* expecting software patents to include complete, functioning
	  source code implementing their invention, to be distributed by
	  the patent office, and, once the patent expires, freely reusable
	  by anyone without the permission of the original author --
	  that's the tradeoff we expect for ordinary inventions anyway. if
	  a "no source code" software patent regime is required as well,
	  the patent office should expect a stronger justification that
	  the inventor has actually invented the method, and should
	  take more time ensuring that the claim is implementable by an
	  appropriate expert.

	* recognising that software techniques have a shorter
	  time-to-market, and generally become obsolete far quicker
	  than manufacturing and pharmaceutical techniques, limiting
	  the period for software patents to, say, 10 years from filing.

I think those are probably feasible, and would buy us a fair bit,
without causing any real costs to American multinationals. If we can
get the above, or something like it as a result of the FTA, I think,
overall, it could even be good for free software and IP in .au.

(TBH, I don't really think there's much chance of the FTA not going
ahead. YMMV.)

It might be worth emphasising that an allowance for open source DVD
players, with a compulsory review of that allowance within four years
would make it easy to remove the allowance should that turn out to
have a significant economic effect on producers, or promote widespread
DVD piracy.


Anthony Towns <aj at humbug.org.au> <http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG signed mail preferred.

             Linux.conf.au 2004 -- Because we could.
           http://conf.linux.org.au/ -- Jan 12-17, 2004
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