Set the goddam increment bit!

Despite the title, no deep technoid stuff here. If you've read this far, read on. This is too good to be true, almost:

By now everyone has heard about the worm that Sony put on a bunch of its plain audio CDs, which installs itself invisibly in the Windows kernel via some nice security hole that Microsoft left for such purposes. And everyone has heard how within a couple of days of the announcement some malware writers had started circulating stuff that exploited the Sony exploit to get their own evil stuff into Windows in a way that's next to impossible to delete.

Hmm, I said no technoid stuff, didn't I? Gimme a break; the press handles stories like this every day.

All right, the code that Sony installs on your XP system, designed to protect their copyright prevent you from exercising legitimate rights under copyright law is a copyright violation! Thanks to Rachel for this one. There is code in Sony's little production that's identical to code in LAME, an open-source mp3 encoder.

Open source? Doesn't that mean it's OK to use the code? Yes; everyone is free to use it in accord with the terms of the license under which it's distributed. That's the Gnu Lesser General Public License, and it requires, as they clearly explain in their documentation, that you must give them due credit, provide a link back to their website, and make your modifications to their code available under the GNU license. Want to guess how much of this Sony has done?

It appears that if copyright law is worth anything, Sony, having simply lifted the code without any compliance with license terms, is subject to a nasty lawsuit. To be sure, Gnu's GPL has not yet been tested in court. When do we start? Where's the signup sheet for backers for legal expenses?

Speaking of GPL: Thirty-some years ago, I worked for a company called Information Systems Design, which at one point was involved in one of the first publicized cases of theft of software, and the first application of a new California law on theft of trade secrets. We were the good guys, of course. A competitor who couldn't solve a problem that one of our guys had figured out took a simpler approach: steal our code. We found out; the cops and the Santa Clara County D.A. were quite happy to take on the first test case for the new criminal law; they got a warrant and staged a raid, with technical ssistance from us.

I'd love to tell the full tale, including the first broad search warrant to search all of a computer installation's magnetic storage, and how the story suddenly broke into international fame through a headline in the Chronicle; but I'm too lazy right now. And this isn't supposed to get tech-heavy.

But one thing we had to prove in court, naturally, was that the code they had was actually stolen from us and wasn't an independent solution to the same problem. (The LAME people will have the same problem, which they can easily solve because there is plenty of stuff visible on Sony's CDs which resembles their code in ways that can't possibly be coincidental.) So the competitor's code was examined by the author of our code, to look for excessive resemblances, of which he found plenty. One example that got into the court records concerned a line from which he had at an early stage omitted an essential asterisk, causing the code not to work properly. Finding the error, he had gone back and fixed it. And as he did so, Greg Lutz (who used his initials GPL on his code submissions -- how's that for uncanny?) added this comment.


Oddly enough, the same comment appeared verbatim in the other guys' code. The perp copped a plea, and we won our lawsuit.


Sylvia Drake said...


But Daddy, I want to hear the rest of your exciting lawsuit story!

Porlock Junior said...

Guess I'll have to write it up.

Obviously I should check with all the other guys and see whether writings on the (alternate|pre)-history of Autodesk should become a blog or a wiki. But that immediately sounds like work, with a low probability of getting many contirbutions. Maybe I should just write it bloody well up.

Oh, and can Yankee Ingenuity ever come up with a catch-all intensifier that doesn't sound as if one's simply aping those Cute English People and yet is not, in current usage, obscene?