Government, Copyright Issues Step to Fore at DVD 2002
Posted Aug 8, 2003

The DVD 2002 conference led off with a session on "DVD after 9-11," and the title proved an apt starting point for the most government-centric DVD show to date. Which is hardly to say the show was all about politics—rather, private and industry business shared the spotlight with national interests at this venue, creating an atmosphere where you were just as likely to hear about foreign wars as format wars. DVD 2002 was in large measure a government show, combining the efforts of the DVDA and the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), the non-regulatory Commerce Department agency that sponsored the show and hosted it on its Gaithersburg, Maryland campus.

The two-day conference, held June 3-4 at NIST with pre-conference sessions at the nearby Gaithersburg Marriott, combined lively updates to familiar DVD conference fare—sessions on writable formats and DVD specifications, authoring, and services—with more government-intensive presentations on topics such as DVD's role in census data preparation and distribution, and data preservation for mission-critical government storage applications. The show also marked two key steps in establishing DVD inside the beltway. First was the assimilation of the Special Interest Group for CD-ROM Applications and Technology (SIGCAT) into the DVDA, an interesting pairing given DVDA's decidedly commercial developer bent and SIGCAT's roots in government data storage and distribution applications for optical disc technology, its mission set forth some 16 years ago by SIGCAT founder and, for many years, SIGCAT conference chair Jerry McFaul of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The conference also brought NIST's announcement that its Advanced Technology Program (ATP) would be accepting proposals for new technology development awards exceeding $60 million. The awards competition explicitly stated an interest in proposals for using DVD in government agencies to upgrade digital asset libraries currently stored on outmoded media, as well as—in the words of DVD 2002 conference chair, NIST's Victor McCrary—"applications from electronic learning to homeland security."

Monday's keynote presented a vision of DVD as "An Enabling Technology for Homeland Security." Keynote speaker Chris Israel, deputy assistant secretary for technology policy at the U.S. Department of Commerce, traced the roots of the Bush's administration's "Cyber-security policy" to the groundbreaking efforts of NIST, and to DVDA by extension through "its predecessor, SIGCAT." (Odd as it sounded, this is only partly inside the beltway-style revisionist history—DVDA, in fact, spun off from the IDMA in 1998, and only connected with SIGCAT recently.) The keynote touched on issues that would take centerstage on Monday afternoon: the role of the U.S. government, and specifically the DMCA, in piracy prevention. "The U.S. copyright regime is one of the strongest anti-piracy structures in the world," Israel said. "We should be the clear leaders in addressing the [copyright protection] policy issues we face today. Government can be a very constructive facilitator in promoting a culture of responsibility." DMCA in particular, he said, "provides protection against the circumvention of accepted encryption standards." It helps provide, he concluded, "a consistent, predictable, and reliable legal environment."

Of course, if you stuck around for the late-afternoon session, "The Politics of DVD," you discovered that it hasn't always worked out that way. The session addressed in part the mess that the commercial DVD world has found itself in following the cracking of DVD's content scrambling system (CSS) and the dissemination of the code (DeCSS) used to crack it. Though opinions vary on the quantifiable impact of DeCSS on the DVD consumer market, the impact on the industry and the technology, thanks to Hollywood's response, is quite real, according to speaker Jim Burger, an attorney who has represented various technology companies (including Apple) on IP issues, and represented the computer industry on CSS-related issues. In the post-DeCSS era, he said, the industry is searching for "suspenders to hold up the pants after the belt of CSS failed."

The session also addressed the hottest topic of the day, the Hollings Act concerning copy protection and associated technology development relating to HDTV broadcasts. The Act, which answers the "culture of responsibility" charge by proposing a timetable for the computer industry to resolve any and all issues related to technologies that enable digital copying in the upcoming HDTV era, is, according to Burger, "like getting all the cancer researchers in the world before congress and saying you have 12 months to find a cure, or NIH will do it." Commenting on the likely outcome of the bill, Burger quipped, "You can always tell when a bill is dead because its sponsors declare victory."

Other speakers on the panel addressed the issues from different angles, such as Wendy Seltzer, also an attorney and a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Seltzer particularly looked at the crackdown on the Linux programmers who cracked CSS as an assault on the open source software development community. Centering her remarks on the question, "Does copy protection hinder technological innovation?" Seltzer characterized schemes that discourage or prevent technology development on open source platforms such as Linux as "security through obscurity."

DVD 2002 also featured the announcement of the 2002 DVD Excellence Awards winner. Presented at the conference's Monday night banquet dinner at the Gaithersburg Marriott by Awards Coordinator and internationally acclaimed DVD (title and book) author Ralph LaBarge, the awards recognized achievement in several categories, including Audio Quality & Presentation, Menu Quality & Presentation, Navigation Design & Implementation, Video Quality & Presentation, and more all-encompassing categories. For a complete list of winners, visit www.dvda.org/ExcellenceAwards.html.

Day Two of the conference featured a second keynote, "The State of Recordable DVD in 2002," delivered by Sandra Benedetto of Pioneer Electronics USA. In a strictly non-sectarian address, Benedetto argued convincingly for the ongoing viability of write-once media formats versus their less read-compatible rewritable counterparts. "End-users don't care about lossless linking," she said. "They just want something that works… People like rewritable media, but they still buy more write-once media." Benedetto predicted that the two writable DVD "formats to watch" are the write-once formats, DVD-R (backed by Pioneer) and the still largely untested DVD+R (backed by the multinational DVD+RW Alliance).

Other highlights included a presentation by Digital Underground founder Eugene Wooden on "The Post-House Model," who lamented the current state of the post-production business due to a climate of reduced expectations. Working in a post-house environment is difficult today, he said, "because clients don't expect the kind of quality you would like to put out." The result, he said, is over-production; regardless of what your clients expect, as a post-house, he said, "It's still your name on it."

Looking forward, DVDA conference chair and DVD Report editor Dana J. Parker said the DVDA expects its collaboration with NIST to continue in other venues. "We are looking at a partnership with NIST for several projects," she said. She cites the ATP grants program as a natural starting point, funding compatibility studies for rewritable media and the like. "There's a lot that needs to be standardized about DVD," Parker said. "The DVD Forum does the specs, but we're talking about real-world practices." Meanwhile, the DVDA has its own work to do, including building up membership and establishing local chapters. DVDA's overarching goal, according to Parker: "To grow the DVD industry."