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[LinuxDVD] What is the status of using DVD-Video specs?
Robert Scott Horning roberth@ise-tlx.com
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 10:58:25 +0000 

I'm curious about what we should do about the DVD-Video specification.

I've been reviewing the NDA and am getting increasingly discouraged
about its implication for open source development of DVD Forum generated
specs. If I had $10K-$50K lying around I might want to start up a small
company again and go after the DVD market, but as an open source
project, how can you publish what would amount to be specifications
written in C++ code?

The DVD Forum NDA is almost as viral in nature as the GPL, with the main
difference being that anybody you deal with has to sign an NDA just so
you can talk with them about DVD.

I quote from the NDA: "Licensee agrees that Licensee and its Affiliates
shall not disclose to any third party information contained in the DVD
Format Books licensed hereunder and any other information provided by
Licensor as confidential information pursuant to the terms and
conditions of the NDA. Licensee further agrees that Licensee and its
Affiliates shall use information contained in the DVD Format Books
licensed hereunder and any other information provided by Licensor as
confidential information pursuant to the terms and conditions of the NDA
only for the purpose of development, manufacture (including having
manufactured), sale, use and other disposition of the DVD Products
included in the DVD Product Category(ies) identified on Schedule A-3 and
selected by Licensee."

How can you release into open source what amounts to be public
documentation of the specs? I suppose that if someone were to know
where a copy of the DVD specifications were located at and physically
stole them (with the understanding that theft of over $5,000 value is
considered a felony in most US states and many other countries) Of
course that doesn't get over the copyright that the DVD Fourm has on the
spec books anyway. Just rambiling, but there are some tricky legal
issues involved.

Anyway, I see a few options which could be followed to develop an open
source DVD player/authoring system (it is essentially the same thing for
either software application)

#1) Contact the DVD Fourm and get them to agree to send copies of the
DVD specs to people developing non-commercial software for a nominal
price.

One approach includes setting up a "non-profit" company who forks over
the initial $5000 and then each developer gets his own copy for $500.
Everybody would still have to sign non-disclosure agreements, and it
still doesn't cover wheither the source code developed under such a
situation could still be placed in "public inspection" as is common for
most open source projects.

Another approach would be laying convincing arguments before the DVD
Fourm and they let us start putting the DVD-specs on-line, again for
non-commercial use. (or perhaps just throw the whole thing open and say
"Let's see what the hacker community can do to create really cool
applications of DVD technology") Somehow I don't see them doing
something like that. The DVD Fourm just doens't have that mindset, but
it wouldn't hurt to ask.

#2) Find a group of lawyers who are just itching to take on the DVD
Fourm.

Personally, I think the legal ground that the DVD Fourm is using to
protect the data format is very shaky at best, and contrary to the needs
of the general public. There are several legal opinions (and case
history to back them up) which would seem to indicate that formats and
interfaces can't be copyrighted.

What this would do, in effect, is allow a group to publish independently
the format specifications. Perhaps you would have to use different
terminology, but the arrangement of the numbers and how the data is
formated would have to be considered in the public domain and anybody is
free to make files using that format using whatever software is
necessary. How you found out that data format is another story, and a
task for reverse engineering, stolen specs, or simply given by a
generous benefactor.

A lawyer who succeeded in doing this would certainly make a name for
himself, but they would be going up against some of the largest
companies on this planet. In the United States it would go all the way
to the Supreme Court and certainly be a major precedent setting case.
In other countries, I'm sure that it would be a little easier but would
still be a challenge and subject to appeals. Keep in mind that most of
the companies involved in the DVD Fourm are not even American companies
either, but a precedent setting case in America would be hard to
challenge in other countries. I'm not so sure the opposite would be
true.

#3) Design another file format to do multi-media presentations. Try
to meet most of the public specifications for DVD-Video but make a truly
public domain specification which would compete with the DVD-Video spec.

I would like to say this is the least favorite option. I don't want to
go through the whole DIVX controversy again, and I understand what
fracturing the format would mean (not to mention the difficulties in
trying to get a new standard established) Creating a new spec would be
incredibly difficult, and costly in terms of both time and money. And
even if considerable effort were put into making a new spec, legal
battles would still come up but I think would be much easier to fight.

Advantages to a new format:

a) Clean up some of the really screwed up file information in the IFO
files. This time let's do it right.

b) Creating a spec that takes advantage of the fact that it is running
on PCs, and that a good CPU with RAM isn't that expensive anyway.

c) No worry about NDAs or other trade secret contracts. If you've
signed them, perhaps you personally would still have to worry about what
you've agreed not to disclose, but recruiting folks who've never seen
the formal DVD specs would be no problem.

d) The player and development systems could be truly open source, even
freeware.

e) People involved in developing the spec, if successful, would be in
high demand as consultants or other multi-media related areas.

f) Perhaps people who have been burned by the DVD Fourm would be
interested in helping out. (Notibly Viacom [Paramount Pictures/Circuit
City] and Microsoft)

g) Consumer level video recording on DVD.

h) DVD-based games

i) Open source resources & reliabilty.

Disadvantages to a new format:

a) We would be fighting against a strong, established specification.

b) We would still be no closer to writing a player to read existing DVD
discs.

c) Actually playing anything besides pirated movies and home videos
would be years away.

d) There is no guarentee a new format would be accepted.

e) Legal battles would still occur over the format, especially if it is
similar to the existing DVD-Video spec

f) Confusion by people wondering which is a better format, DVD-Video or
Linux-Video (or whatever name is made up)
(Imaging the Betamax vs VHS debate)

g) The struggle to even come up with a format.

Keep in mind that a new format would not have to be exclusively
Linux-based, or even should be. Cross development for Windows/Mac/other
Unix/Amiga/Apple ][/TRS-80/Nintento/Web TV/stand alone machine should be
encouraged.

#4) Form a for-profit company, and develop a Linux-based DVD player

This option would allow all of the NDAs to be signed, allow you to play
DVD discs on your computer using Linux, and would fit in the the
business model that the DVD Fourm is working with. Unfortunatly this
would be a closed-source application merely running on top of Linux.
There is some potential of making some money doing this, but this is
going against almost everything in the open source community. You would
also lose all of the benefit coming from having an open source project.

I would like to see some serious discussion regarding this issue. There
are some hard, tough decisions which need to be made, and consequences
for going in any of the directions I've listed. There are some things
which could be done concurrently, and being able to read and/or write
data from/to DVD is a good first step. There are some exciting things
which can be done with the technology, especially when you consider the
ability to mass produce a data product which stores data in the multiple
giga-byte range. What we are putting onto that disc should be the
object of discussion.

I am warning that by taking the approach of creating a DVD-Video player
and saying "I'll wait 'til I'm sued by folks who care" and not paying
attention to the substantial legal issues involved is a disaster wating
to happen. It will probabally be a wasted effort, unless you are just
in it for fun and don't ever want your software from being anywhere
other than your own desk. I currently am possessing a neat little
DVD-Video authoring system which I wrote, and because it is closed
source and the company I wrote it for is going through a legal mess of
their own it will never be used for anything other than recording my own
home videos onto DVD (playable only in Region 6 if I choose to). What
is so tough as well is that 90% of the code to write a player is done as
well.

--
Robert Scott Horning
Integrated Systems Engineering
1115 North 200 East Suite 210
Logan, Utah 84341
Phone: (435) 755-5999
FAX: (435) 755-5992
E-mail: roberth@ise-tlx.com

[LinuxDVD] What is the status of using DVD-Video specs?
Paul Volcko pvolcko@concentric.net
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 14:30:10 -0400 

> I've been reviewing the NDA and am getting increasingly discouraged
> about its implication for open source development of DVD Forum generated
> specs. If I had $10K-$50K lying around I might want to start up a small
> company again and go after the DVD market, but as an open source
> project, how can you publish what would amount to be specifications
> written in C++ code?

Simple answer is that until the specs become public knowledge 
the NDA's prohibit such publication. 

> #1) Contact the DVD Fourm and get them to agree to send copies of the
> DVD specs to people developing non-commercial software for a nominal
> price.
> 
> One approach includes setting up a "non-profit" company who forks over
> the initial $5000 and then each developer gets his own copy for $500.
> Everybody would still have to sign non-disclosure agreements, and it
> still doesn't cover wheither the source code developed under such a
> situation could still be placed in "public inspection" as is common for
> most open source projects.

This and the later suggestion of the for-profit company are the only 
two viable alternatives in the eys of the DVD Forum. As you say, 
they foster an environment on close standards and proprietary 
information. The above solution would allow for easier hiring of 
developers. Assuming that the company and the developers are 
one and the same then this situation will allow for relatively easy 
handling of "business" issues and a product could be developed 
that could be distributed for free, but only in binary-
object/executable form. 

> Another approach would be laying convincing arguments before the DVD
> Fourm and they let us start putting the DVD-specs on-line, again for
> non-commercial use. (or perhaps just throw the whole thing open and say
> "Let's see what the hacker community can do to create really cool
> applications of DVD technology") Somehow I don't see them doing
> something like that. The DVD Fourm just doens't have that mindset, but
> it wouldn't hurt to ask.

It won't hurt to ask, no, but I'm not holding my breath for a favorable 
answer. :)

> #2) Find a group of lawyers who are just itching to take on the DVD
> Fourm.

That will cost money. No group of lawyers is going to take that 
kind of case on free of charge. Especially since there is no 
financial reward at the end. It is a purely idealistic/philosophic 
case and while they may have the principles of moral, ethics, and 
public well-being on their side, they tend to offer little in return in 
the financial sense. As far as getting themselves known as a 
reward, they could just as easily take out an hour TV spot across 
the world as a paid advertisement and still come out ahead on 
expenditures, probably. (well maybe not, but you get the point).

> #3) Design another file format to do multi-media presentations. Try
> to meet most of the public specifications for DVD-Video but make a truly
> public domain specification which would compete with the DVD-Video spec.

There is too large an established base of standalone players out 
there for this too work, I think. Not to mention not many, if any, 
companies except PC software companies would be willing to work 
with such a format. Many of the big players in the entertainment 
hardware industry had a say in the DVD Forum and the DVD spec 
for the start. They aren't going to toss the investment aside. And 
PC based DVD-Video playback really isn't a huge market, I don't 
think. Certainly not in comparison to the standalone market. This 
may change as more DVD based games come out onto the 
market, but even then the integration of DVD-Video into pc games 
may not take off. Software makers may just start using it because 
it can hold more data and thats all. Some market research of 
some kind would help determine the direction of the industry on 
this, but my initial reaction is that there would be *major* 
opposition.

> #4) Form a for-profit company, and develop a Linux-based DVD player
> 
> This option would allow all of the NDAs to be signed, allow you to play
> DVD discs on your computer using Linux, and would fit in the the
> business model that the DVD Fourm is working with. Unfortunatly this
> would be a closed-source application merely running on top of Linux.
> There is some potential of making some money doing this, but this is
> going against almost everything in the open source community. You would
> also lose all of the benefit coming from having an open source project.

This is a very attractive stance to take on this. There is profit 
involved. The developers can be paid and they still get the benefits 
of being among the few to have worked in the DVD realm, thus 
making them attractive for later employment. The idea above about 
the company buying the first copy of the Spec at $5000 and the 
developers each buying their own could still apply here, perhaps it 
makes more sense since they would be getting paid at some point 
anyway. Likewise, this company could market and sell both AC-3, 
DDS, MPEG-2, and other software decoding modules since those 
would end up needing licensing before sale anyway. In the case of 
AC-3 and MPEG-2 the specs are freely available so those could be 
open sourced. It would simply be the duty of anyone who used the 
module in a player product to license at the system level (the for-
profit company would handle implementation licensing fees, if any). 
In fact the only two parts that couldn't be open sourced would be 
the DVD spec related stuff and the CSS stuff, all of which could 
easily be integrated into a single binary module for compilation in 
the project on open source developers' machines. The product 
could be marketed to a linux distribution for inclusion... a source of 
profit. A clause in the decoder module licenses could state that if 
they are used in any product that one markets or distributes at a 
cost to the consumer, that they make arrangements for nominal 
royalties to the for-profit company (still open sourced and free for 
personal use). 

It all does go against the open source mentality. It scofs at the 
idea of free software (as in free beer). But the reality of this whole 
situation of wanting to make a freely distributable and open 
sources DVD player is that it really isn't feasible.

I remember reading a feature on slashdot some time ago that 
basically put forth the notion that not everything should be open 
sourced (at least I'm pretty sure it was saying that). Some things 
just don't make sense to open source. In house software was their 
best example of this. Things that aren't likely to be of use to 
anyone else except the people making the software in the first 
place. And requirements of open sourcing can get in the way of 
anything happening at all, such is the case we see here with CSS 
and DVD Spec related material. 

In the interests of getting something out there for people to use and 
to further the Linux OS's acceptance, perhaps it makes sense and 
is actually acceptable that open source development not be a 
requirement. It's blasphemy, I know... but something to consider. 
And this isn't to say that the code will not ever be relaseable. 
Eventually the spec will become old enough, not profitable enough, 
or the next Wiz Bang thing will come out, and the NDA's will be 
lifted. 

Keep in mind this will be a relatively small piece of software with, at 
least initially, limited application. It's not like we are implementing 
a TCP/IP stack, something that gets widespread, perhaps even 
universal use, among linux users. The group of people using this 
will be relatively small, most likely (maybe on the order of 100,000). 
There isn't a huge set of hardware out there that needs to be 
supported in a direct fashion, there can be a publicly published 
spec for a hardware and software decoder interface (something that 
is actually in the works already). While code efficiency and size 
can benefit from an open source development model, they aren't 
likely to be big concerns in a dvd player project since the scope of 
the program is relatively small. The reasons that open sourcing a 
project benefits a piece of software are pretty heavily reduced in 
this instance.

Paul Volcko

[LinuxDVD] What is the status of using DVD-Video specs?
Derek Fawcus derek@spider.com
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 20:24:00 +0100 

On Tue, Jul 20, 1999 at 02:30:10PM -0400, Paul Volcko wrote:
> 
> > #4) Form a for-profit company, and develop a Linux-based DVD player
> > 
> In fact the only two parts that couldn't be open sourced would be 
> the DVD spec related stuff and the CSS stuff, all of which could 
> easily be integrated into a single binary module for compilation in 
> the project on open source developers' machines. The product 
> could be marketed to a linux distribution for inclusion... a source of 
> profit. A clause in the decoder module licenses could state that if 
> they are used in any product that one markets or distributes at a 
> cost to the consumer, that they make arrangements for nominal 
> royalties to the for-profit company (still open sourced and free for 
> personal use).

Now this is something I could go for. My main interest is actually in
the MPEG-2 decoding. With the above structure the other components could
be supplied by various parties.

However I see one big problem - This will allow digital extraction of
the picture/sound. The whole reason for having the macrovison bits in
hw/sw DVD plays is to prevent this. So I guess that above wouldn't be
accepted.

DF
-- 
Derek Fawcus derek@spider.com
Spider Software Ltd. +44 (0) 131 475 7034

[LinuxDVD] What is the status of using DVD-Video specs?
Paul Volcko pvolcko@concentric.net
Tue, 20 Jul 1999 15:50:54 -0400 

> However I see one big problem - This will allow digital extraction of
> the picture/sound. The whole reason for having the macrovison bits in
> hw/sw DVD plays is to prevent this. So I guess that above wouldn't be
> accepted.

If the CSS software decoding is being used the player would force 
use of internal decoders compiled into the program. If a hardware 
decoder was being used then the normal CSS authentication 
process would happen and the program would never "see" any 
unencrypted data. If the source material is not encrypted then any 
decoder modules would work. Likewise, an external CSS 
decryptor could be attached to the program by a third party (only 
going to happen if someone RE's it or the specs become public 
knowledge). This is what I was pitching some weeks ago as the 
basis of the DVD-Video API (roughly). It is also the high level 
design of the LSDVD project, to use a module system for use of 
software and/or hardware decoders. This is especially important 
since the code will not be specialized to any one hardware or 
software decoding solution. 

Paul Volcko
LSDVD Project

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