It's been great watching Maplin grow from a mail-order supplier of nerdy electronic bits to a nationwide chain of nerdy electronic bits and cheap gadgets, even if its shop assistants continue to delight and enthral with their extraordinary displays of creative incompetence each time I pop in to pick up a plug or cop a capacitor. Today, the company's making the news for interesting reasons -- it's decided to remove its video signal conditioners from sale and destroy them because they contravene the European Copyright Directive, EUCD. That outlaws things that only exist to circumvent copy protection, and video conditioners -- ostensibly there to make 'cleaner copies' of legit signals -- clearly fell foul.
These things are used to bypass a system called Macrovision that distorts video signals when you try to record them on VCRs. It doesn't work that well, causes a few problems of its own but has in the past stopped a few people from letting their pals have copies of Ghostbusters or whatever. Not that many people wanted the hassle of waiting for ninety minutes to make an analogue copy, and not that the professional pirates gave a hoot for any sorts of copy protection, but there it was. And now, it's safe from Maplins.
I talked to a friend ("Just call me Secret Squirrel DVD Hacker if you mention me") about all this, and asked him whether people still did video-to-video copies. "Well, people still copy stuff from DVD to VHS," he said, "and DVD players are supposed to read the Macrovision bit from the disc and turn the protection on if it's set." Note the 'supposed to'.
"But," he continued cheerfully, "when you do the multi-region hacks to unlock them, the Macrovision usually goes away."
So there's a good chance that sales of the boxes weren't anything to write home about, and the publicity from destroying the old stocks was a fair reward for doing the right thing.
Let it never be said that the EUCD is incapable of thoroughly locking down a stable door long after the horse is already at the knacker's yard.