Wednesday, May 10, 2006

FedEx wants to sniff your Disk

Ok, I'm not usually one to blow my own horn (I'm more of a string and percussionist, rather than brass) but in the words of the great Stephen Colbert *ahem* I CALLED IT!

Let me explain if you will. About 2 weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how the struggle for copyright protection and enforcement is resembling the war on drugs to a greater and greater extent. It was with great amusement and a correspondingly large amount of incredulity that I get a message early (for me) on a Saturday morning from one of the guys over at slyck and p2pforums. What was it about? Why a sniffer-dog for counterfeit DVDs of course. You can't run a good war on anything these days, without a cute quadruped utilizing their great olfactory sense to deter crime.

This is great, but also worrying. Its great that so much money has been spent on such a novel solution (and that not having such outlandish ideas would give me nothing to write about) but it's worrying about what this means in actual practice. After all, what is a DVD when it comes down to it. Some Lexan, some aluminium, some die for a re-recordable. Lexan and aluminium are no good for sniffing - you'd get all sorts of other stuff (from watches, to safety glasses0 so it'd have to be the dye. So, you've got a disc, you've sniffed it out. Sadly (to some peoples thinking) possession of a (re)recordable DVD is no offense at all. its only an offense depending on what's on it, and, lest we forget, copyright infringement is only a civil offense.

So, they got a DVD-recordable, found in a package, then what? Does it have to be of a movie, or game? Could it not be some video footage I filmed at my kids birthday party, and are sending to some family members that can't get there? Is there anything wrong with my disc? well, Its been opened, and accessed, for no good reason. Or, lets go with situation number 2 - there's some footage on there that appears to be of a copyrighted show or movie or piece of software. Is that bad. well depends, you see. does the person sending have the rights to copy and send them to the package recipient.

There's the rub. That's why its a civil offense. i, for one, have some copyrighted material to which I have distribution rights. If I choose to send that material, in a DVD to someone, there's no offense or infringement, criminal or civil. It appears copyrighted through, and how will the dog handlers know if I'm authorised to distribute said disc? Will they, on detecting it, hold it as 'evidence', meaning that my legitimately made and legitimately distributed disc has been seized and confiscated because someone else has decided its not, and that's the problem. Its not such a far-fetched scenario either. i personally do some beta-testing for certain pieces of software. Luckily most of the data and applications are small, on the order of a 5 minute transfer, but if they weren't, I'd get them sent to me on a DVD-r (or CD-r). It'll look like a 'pirated' disc, filled with 'stolen' software, when its no such thing. ditto anyone's personal, fair use backups, when moving, or travelling, or just being put into storage. This action affects lots of different people, in all aspects of business, and the only people it benefits are a small number of large media conglomerates. Lets reiterate what the FACT press release says, as well, eh.

They were amazingly successful at identifying packages containing DVD’s, which were opened and checked by HM Customs’ representatives. While all were legitimate shipments on the day

FedEx UK managing Director Trevor Hoyle

If you are still unsure just what I'm talking about, let me try an analogy, and borrow a little bit from the media conglomerates. Lets simplify things and step back ooh, 20 years. There's no widespread net usage. modems are those big clunky boxes with the rubber cups you put the telephone handset into. The communication system is being used for criminal purposes still. this time its the ransom note, the blackmail letter, the posted threat. not only are they a major threat to people, they're easy to identify. Everyone knows such messages are made by cutting letters from newspapers and gluing them onto a backing sheet, giving no handwriting 9must be true they were all like that, because Hollywood has said so). So, they've had a great idea. Lets get a pair of sniffer-dogs to recognise the smell of 5 most popular paper glues, and of course, Sellotape, and have them stiff for it in the post. After all, only such messages use adhesive materials, don't they. ooops, along with all the collages demanding '$5 MILLION OR THE KID GETS IT' is the collage demanding that the sender loves their grandmother so much shes sending this picture. Or how about, instead of glue and tape, they sniff out photos, I mean, ONLY criminals would send photos through the mail, wouldn't they, so they can prove they have someone/something, without being caught.

Its clearly idiotic to open packages because there's a recordable disc in there. not when not only is possession legal, but the legality of any content found on it is impossible to determine at the time. Drugs, yes, they're illegal to posses, having drugs at all is bad, unless you've a valid transportation certificate, and in which case, you'd not be sniffed anyway. its time for some common sense, and what's more, its time for a little bit of actual thinking, both by the organisations involved, and by our elected officials. Corporations don't vote, people, ie you, do.

Ben Jones

External link
FACT news page about the operation.

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