Kaleidescape System 3000 Entertainment Server The Digital Rights Saga

The Digital Rights Saga
Kaleidescape appears to have gone to extreme lengths to protect the DVDs copied onto the Server from being transferred again—that is, from potentially entering the illegal file-sharing domain. The output of the Kaleidescape is identical to what you get from the output of a conventional DVD player, and is neither more nor less at risk for illegal copying.

To date, Kaleidescape has not been troubled by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who's on constant watch for activities it considers violations of copyright laws or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. But last December, Kaleidescape was sued by another, related organization, the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA). This shadowy group licenses the Content Scramble System (CSS), the DVD encryption scheme designed to prevent copying.

Kaleidescape is a DVD CCA licensee. The group argues that Kaleidescape has violated the terms of its license, a charge that Kaleidescape vehemently denies and is prepared to refute in court. If this follows the pattern of most such cases, it is likely to drag out for years. It has not, to date, affected Kaleidescape's manufacturing and sales operations.

One of the more interesting questions in this case is just who the DVD CCA is and who it represents. According to articles that have appeared in CEPro, and reprinted on Kaleidescape's Web site, its membership is secret. If you go to the DVD CCA Web site, you'll find no information on whom to contact for additional information. The only thing that seems clear is that the majority of the members of DVD CCA are DVD-player manufacturers—potential Kaleidescape competitors. And if you want to study their full licensing agreement, you can't. You have to be a licensee or a potential licensee to see it—and a license will run you over $15,000 per year, and you have to pay before you even see it. Actually, each membership category pays $15,500; Kaleidescape pays $50,000/year for its license.

This secretiveness is understandable to an extent. The DVD CCA needs to keep a close hold on the technical details of how the CSS functions to prevent hacking. (Yes, I know, it has already been hacked, but that won't stop its proponents from continuing to defend it.)

But surely there are general details about the CSS that should be readily accessible by the public. The only open document on their website—for which you must provide a name and contact information, is a legal nightmare of a document called the Procedural Specifications. I defy any layman to get more than two pages into it without his or her eyes glazing over. There must be room for open discussion of the pros and cons of such protection schemes—schemes that inevitably emphasize copyright protection over innovation and thereby inevitably impact the consumer. If Sony had lost the original Betamax suit, where do you suppose the huge home video market would be today?