Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 23/01/2002Further proof of the Cooltown worries comes courtesy of Scientific American, which elaborates on the story of Sony trying to pull programming information about their Aibo robomutts from the Web. To recap: a keen American Aibo owner and hacker -- known as AiboPet -- had found ways past the Aibo's internal encryption and made the cute thang dance the two-step among other tricks.

Wednesday 23/01/2002

Further proof of the Cooltown worries comes courtesy of Scientific American, which elaborates on the story of Sony trying to pull programming information about their Aibo robomutts from the Web. To recap: a keen American Aibo owner and hacker -- known as AiboPet -- had found ways past the Aibo's internal encryption and made the cute thang dance the two-step among other tricks. And he published software that let others do this.

Sony said -- correctly -- that such things broke the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which expressly forbids any breaking of encrypted digital code. AiboPet was a criminal, despite the fact he made no money, revealed no details of the encryption or how he broke it. AiboPet immediately pulled the Web site, and started a campaign and boycott by other Aibo fans.

A month later, Sony caved in and started to work with AiboPet, to the joy of all. After all, it's a bit steep to spend more than a thousand quid on a toy and then be told you're a criminal for playing with it.

Nonetheless, AiboPet remains a criminal, and he could go to jail for years or be fined huge sums of money -- a problem which is going to get worse, rather than better, as more and more complex systems with proprietary encryption come onto the market and people want to use them as they please.

There are two nice codicils to this story: first, the Scientific American story was written by one David Labrador, which is pleasant to bear in mind as you retrieve his golden article. And second, there remains the intriguing possibility that a backlash to Sony's attitude may become known as Aibohphobia -- a word until now only used as the punchline to a joke. (*)

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