Week in review: Copy-protection drama, scary robots and faster wireless

Hollywood, Lexmark and Microsoft all played a part in the developing DMCA debate, while many were content to gawk at the latest consumer electronics

Along with the new year comes, perhaps, a change in climate in the computing world. No, not global warming, but a case that could prove to be a landmark in the way anti-piracy technology is viewed by the courts. Teenage Norwegian programmer Jon Johansen was acquitted by an Oslo court for his role in creating DeCSS, a technology designed to strip copy protections from DVDs. It all sounds a bit dodgy so far, but because Johansen merely used DeCSS to view a DVD on his Linux PC, the courts found no reason why he should be punished. This is a bit different from other copyright-circumvention cases since the introduction of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which have viewed with suspicion any attempt to create copyright-breaking technology. At stake is the doctrine of fair use, which has until recently protected people's right to, say, copy their favourite Bon Jovi CDs to play in their car tape player. Where does fair use end and piracy begin?
Norway piracy case brings activists hope Another sign of the times, this one a bit grimmer for the adversaries of big business, was Lexmark's lawsuit against a toner remanufacturer under the DMCA. Lexmark is taking Static Control Components to task for its business of refilling and reselling Lexmark toner cartridges at a fraction of their original cost. Experts say that similar cases in the past would have favoured Static -- before the DMCA came along, that is. Lexmark wants to destroy all of Static's Smartek chips on the grounds that they circumvent protections to copyrighted work. Ironically, this comes along just as the EU is taking measures to stop powerful printer makers from embedding "clever chips" into their cartridges that prevent their reuse, on the very reasonable grounds that non-reusable cartridges add to Europe's annual mountain of high-tech waste.
Lexmark invokes DMCA in toner suit
Printer makers rapped over refill restrictions In another copy-protection development, a British programmer released software that strips protections from Microsoft's e-book software, which looks a bit similar to the Elcomsoft vs Adobe case that raised so many hackles. Like Johansen, Dan Jackson says he just wanted to be able to read Microsoft Reader files on hardware that didn't support the protected format. Presumably he won't be heading to the US any time soon.
Brit cracks Microsoft's e-book software In Vegas, it was time once again to take a look at consumer electronics and see whether they had turned into PCs yet. Sony used its keynote to talk about how the TV was going to be the centre of the home's digital network. Rubbish, Dell replied. Bill Gates insisted that watches will become FM-radio-connected computers. Meanwhile, a company called Evolution Robotics offered a mass-market utility robot for chores like bringing you cans of lager while you're watching the telly. This sounds like a winner, until you discover that the robot looks like a miniature Dalek. Surely not something you'd want to have scurrying around your house at night.
Viva las gadgets: CES comes to town
Start-up offers mass-market robot tech
Dell: The PC is still king
Little things mean a lot for Gates Apple got its own West Coast bonanza of gadgets underway in San Francisco. One of the key bits of gear was a new wireless networking base station and add-in card built on the 802.11g specification, one of the first products on the market. The new base stations can rebroadcast signals from Internet-connected hubs, meaning that you could cover a pretty wide area without needing more than a single physical point of connection. The aluminium laptops looked pretty cool too.
Apple unwires laptops


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