Digital Convergence demanded last week that several developers take drivers offline that work with their "CueCat" barcode reader that was distributed freely through Radio Shack and through other places. They have taken the time to respond to the flak that they've taken, and I've attached their response below, interspersed with a few comments of my own. Read on to see what they have to say for themselves.
The following was sent in by Doug Davis from Digital Convergance. Plain text is his. Bold text is mine.
Digital:Convergence understands this Linux issue and the concerns expressed by the community. Had Digital:Convergence been approached by developers we would have been (and still will be) happy to work with them in a constructive direction. Instead, our products were reversed engineered and what has occurred is a public display of what is clearly our intellectual property. It is unfortunate the supporters of the open source community have taken steps to publicize intellectually property in-order to further their own goals and desires. Unfortunately, for us all, some of the people conducting these efforts would not voluntarily remove our IP, even after being contacted.
Thank god. These folks worked hard to write code to use this piece of hardware, and it would be unfortunate if they were forced to take it down. Imagine if Linus had been forced by Intel to take down kernel versions that used their intellectual property in the early part of the last decade. A lot of companies have bullied a lot of people in the last couple of years, and it's only getting worse. Your CueCat, like DeCSS, is going to redefine what IP is. Personally, I hope that when I get a barcode reader, or a DVD-ROM drive (or a car, or phone, or any other physical thing), that I'm allowed to rip it apart and tinker with it at my discretion. I think that's my right as a consumer.
In the strictest legal terms we had no choice but to proceed protect our interests. By posting our IP to the Net the Linux Community has forced us into a position of having to legally defend our technology . Under IP law if we don't PROTECT our IP, we loose any remedies under law to PROTECT our IP. This IS NOT ABOUT stopping hackers, but trying to get the "hackers" and such to WORK WITH US AND NOT EXPOSE US and destroy over 5 years of hard work by a group of "geeks, hackers and techno-whizzes" like each of you!
IP is a weird beast. If you don't defend it, you don't have it. I imagine if Adaptec or Matrox defended the IP created by the work of their "geeks, hackers and techno-wizzes" by forcing Linux driver writers to take down code utilizing their SCSI controllers, hard drives and video cards, their IP would also be unusable under Linux. Which is too bad because I use hardware that they created every day. Oh, and 5 years of development for "base64+XOR"?
Any professional and serious developer will understand the following: .........Unfortunately the Linux Community could of inadvertently created the WINDOW for the BIG companies to come in and control and profit from this process we have created. So if M$ or some other company decides to do what you are doing *for profit" and DigitalConvergence allows the open source group to continue with out proper licenses, DigitalConvergence could loose its ability to effectively stop them. The Linux Community would of actually had a DIRECT HAND in creating what it stands most vehemently against!
You start it off by saying "Any serious Professional will understand" which is a none-too-subtle way of saying, "If you're smart, you'll understand." Fortunately you don't say that any serious developer will agree. What you're saying is that the Linux community should happily take down the code out of fear of some big company (mentioning Microsoft is poor form: it screams like a bad political commercial where they mention a bunch of scary things just to make their ideas seem more true). If big scary Microsoft came along and released their own distribution, there is nothing we could do about it (provided that they played by the common rules of the GPL). That reality constantly exists, but that doesn't slow anyone down. It's not the point. If Microsoft wants to play by the rules of the GPL, I say let 'em. But by your logic, nobody should ever write and distribute source code, for fear that Microsoft would take it. That strikes me as a bit backwards.
It is our hope the Linux community will help us in our efforts by
- working with us to create a product to support your needs, and;
- stop and remove illegal posting efforts, and;
- encourage others in the Linux community to work with us
hand-in-hand to develop a various solutions and useful applications.
You too, can be part of this valuable tool and project!"
The weird thing about open source development is that code gets written where programmers itch. I bet you'll find support for #1, but less so for #2. See, your itches might not be the same as their itches. We all define valuable tools and projects differently, and our needs might be a bit different then yours. I don't think that folks posting this code constitutes "an illegal posting effort" any more then I think posting a driver for a scanner does.
Digital:Convergence supports the Linux/Unix community and plans to make a version of its software available for Linux available in the near future. Also, licenses are available for any developers wishing to work with any aspect of our technology. We welcome the individuals of the community to contact us and use a more professional, orderly and productive manner in adjusting our products to better serve, in tact and based fully upon our various Patents and Intellectual Property, your community, . Professional Licenses and Development contracts are available to the Linux/Unix community and we welcome your direct and professional contact.
If I own a Ford, do I need a Ford wrench to fiddle with my engine? If I buy a frame, do I need a nail & hammer from the same company in order to hang a picture on my wall? If your tools are the best tools, and at the right price, then by all means, I'd happily use your nail & hammer, but we live in a marketplace where competition drives everything, and you have competition. You have the advantage: you have the technical specifications and the most developed tools, wheras the open source guys are groping blindly in the dark looking for answers. Oddly enough this groping is a large part of the fun. It's a challenge.
And, by the way, the AT HOME - PERSONAL USE DEVELOPER LICENSE is $20 USD! So please, HELP US PROTECT, what a group of talented developers, have worked so very hard on for over the last 5 years!
J. Jovan Philyaw - Chairman & C.E.O. firstname.lastname@example.org
Doug Davis - President Technology Group email@example.com
I seriously wish you guys the best of luck, and hope you figure out a way to work with the developers who are writing this cool code. If you haven't alienated the developers, I bet they would be happy to work with you. My fear is that your business model is shaky: you've given away zillions of barcode readers, (no doubt at great expense) but failed to realize that they, like iOpeners and TiVos and Furbys and AIBOs and DVD-ROM drives and everything else physical, can (and will!) be ripped apart and played with by people. You're trying to use lawyers to take away people's rights to screw around with their own hardware, and that's a problem... your service strikes me as being about a lot more then a silly little barcode scanner and what people do with it. If your software serves a need, people will use it. If some hacker finds some cool other use for the hardware, maybe people will use their code too. This is very real, but this is a free country where we can tear apart our toys and rebuild them if we want.
On a practical note, you have a website and a net service. Thats different. Thats not a physical piece of hardware that someone can hold in their hands. You should focus on that, and not waste your energy going after hackers who are just poking around with a cool piece of hardware. I'm not a business guy, so I don't know what the answers are, but I do know a dead end when I see it. And don't forget that the percentage of people who are actually gonna mess with this stuff is very tiny. You should concentrate on making your services better for the huge majority of your users who don't run Linux, and wouldn't run software other then yours even if it did exist. It's the blinking 12:00 syndrome. Most users just don't change the defaults.
I'd also like to say something to the readers: don't get angry and attack these guys. They're just a group of guys trying to feed their dogs by coming up with ideas to make a buck. Yelling and screaming doesn't help anyone. It's easy to forget that every company is just a group of people trying to accomplish something; they aren't evil, even when they make mistakes or do things that we disagree with. But don't stop writing the code. I can think of many uses for this barcode scanner (like maybe software to index my DVDs?). It's still legal to reverse engineer, and that sure better never change.