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Linux survived the year-2000 bug in fine form. A number of small problems turned up, and some last-minute fixes have been (or are being) rushed out, but nothing serious happened. Of course, that pretty well describes the rest of the world's experience with Y2K, so it's hard to be too smug about it...
Talk about open documentation. O'Reilly and Associates has set up an online forum to discuss the best way to go about creating open documents. There are a lot of issues involved in the creation of such documents, including "...quality control, Internet-time release schedules, the big-picture thinking required to keep the book's balance and structure strong during updates, risks and benefits of forking, adequate compensation for writers and publishers, dealing with the natural tendency to want to hide work in progress with competitive publishers..."
This forum, as of this writing, has only seen about a dozen postings. It's time to get some more people involved. Free documentation for our free operating system has come a long way in the last year. Consider, for example, how much richer we are for having access to:
Free documentation is just as important as free software, and we have all too little of it. The process of producing free documentation is different from that which creates software. While free software developers have a whole set of tools, procedures, licenses, and experience to work with, those who would produce documentation on the same scale are still blazing the trail.
If you would like to see more free, high-quality documentation like the books listed above, please consider helping out the process somewhat. Head on over to the O'Reilly forum, think about the issues, and contribute your thoughts to the cause.
DVDCA and the Big Lie. Eric Raymond writes about DVDCA and the Big Lie - a look at how the DVD Control Association is trying to obscure the real issues in the whole DeCSS affair. "One can almost pity DVDCA. Like the feeble minds behind the misnamed 'Communications Decency Act' in 1996 and the NSA's key-escrow power grab back in 1994-95, they're about to find out what happens when you try to step on the Internet community's liberty."
We have gotten some mail contesting Eric's claim that it is not necessary to decrypt DVDs to be able to make illegal copies. In fact, as documented in this IEEE Spectrum article, a number of steps have been taken to make bit-for-bit copying of DVDs hard - including prerecording sections of blank disks so that the encryption key can not be copied onto them.
None of that changes the fundamental point, though: pirates determined to make illegal DVD copies will be able to do so without any need for the DeCSS software. Subverting a (hardware or software) player to get a clear bit stream, or finding a source of non-prerecorded disks are both entirely viable approaches. Trying to protect bits that are in the hands of users is a losing battle.
And the simple fact is that the writers of the DeCSS code had no interest in pirating disks. Users of DeCSS also have no interest in pirating disks. They simply want to play their (legally purchased) disks on their Linux systems. The DVD industry has gone to battle against its own customers.
The DVD case as a test of shrink-wrap licensing. LWN is pleased to run this feature article from Nathan Myers on the DVD case. Nathan has noted an interesting aspect of this case: it's likely to be the first court test of "shrink wrap" licenses. There is a definite possibility that shrink-wrap licenses could be held to be non-binding.
Should the court rule on the validity of these licenses, it will be interesting to consider how free software licenses differ legally - if at all - from the commercial shrink-wrap variety. This topic and shrink-wrap licensing in general are also discussed in this week's Letters to the Editor section.
One last DVD item: The Great International DVD Source Code Distribution Contest has been announced by Don Marti. Don and company are looking for the most imaginative and effective ways to get the DeCSS code distributed throughout the world. The prize will be, of course, movies on DVD...
More information on the whole DVD issue can be found at OpenDVD.org.
LWN 1999 Linux Timeline 1.0 released. Version 1.0 of our 1999 Linux Timeline is now available. The changes from the original version are relatively small. Thanks to everybody who wrote in with suggestions for improvements.
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January 6, 2000