August 15, 2006 | By Fred von Lohmann

Another DMCA Misuse: Macrovision v. Sima

Yesterday, EFF joined an amicus brief filed in support of Sima in its battle against DRM-vendor Macrovision. In essence, Macrovision is trying to leverage the DMCA into a technology mandate, forcing all digital video products in the future to respond to its analog-era DRM system.

Macrovision's "Analog Copy Protection" (ACP) technology is intended to degrade the quality of video copies made on analog VCRs. It does this by intentionally adding noise to the vertical blanking interval of analog video signals. This noise confuses the automatic gain control (AGC) circuit used by analog VCRs. In short, Macrovision's ACP is an exploit against a weakness in analog VCRs. Thanks to Section 1201(k) of the DMCA, VCR makers are now forbidden by law from fixing the weakness, which means that analog VCRs have remained vulnerable to ACP. In other words, Macrovision's ACP is an antiquated DRM technology that owes its effectiveness in the analog world to a government mandate.

The ACP technology, however, does not confuse digital video converters, because these converters simply ignore material in the vertical blanking interval (the vertical blanking interval was necessary in order to give analog CRT displays time to reset their electron beams, something entirely unnecessary for digital displays). Sima's products rely on a digital conversion as part of their "clean up" process. As a result, Macrovision's ACP noise is eliminated from the resulting video outputs.

Macrovision sued Sima, arguing that "stripping" of ACP noise from analog video signals constitutes circumvention of a "copy-protection" technology, and that Sima's devices therefore violate Section 1201(b) of the DMCA. The district court granted a preliminary injunction against Sima, which Sima has now appealed to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Macrovision's legal arguments are bogus for a variety of reasons, detailed in the amicus brief (the brief was filed on behalf of a coalition that includes EFF, CCIA, CEA, HRRC, and the Library Copyright Alliance). But there is a larger point here, as well -- this is an example of a DRM vendor trying to use the DMCA to turn its decades-old, analog-world DRM technology into a digital-age federal technology mandate. If Macrovision wins, digital video innovators will be stuck carrying the albatross of Macrovision's analog noise for years to come.


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