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Last Updated: Friday, 18 February 2005, 14:09 GMT
Gizmos under threat of extinction
Computer user
The entertainment industry is concerned about technology that facilitates piracy
Endangered animals lists are familiar to those who care about nature, but now technology has its own list of gadget "species" under threat of extinction.

High on the endangered list is the file-sharing network, Morpheus, which is about to fight for survival in court.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) list highlights what it says is the grip industry holds over gadgets.

It says pressure from the entertainment industry for legal action over devices and technologies stifles innovation.

The EFF intends the list to be part of a wider educational and awareness project, and it will be updated regularly as more gadgets and technologies are saved or killed off.

The entertainment industry is concerned about technology that facilitates piracy in general and has implemented its own anti-piracy awareness campaigns.

The Motion Picture Association's (MPA) efforts to combat net piracy has been turned up a gear since the end of last year.

The MPAA was unavailable to comment on the EFF's list.

As well as legal action, enforced industry standards on programs that control the free copying of a music file from one to device to another, for example, are to blame, said the EFF.

It argues that people should be allowed to do so under "fair use" rules. This includes being able to make extra back-up copies of films or music that have been paid for.

Good, bad and the ugly

The list is organised around extinct, endangered and saved categories. Within each is the species name, genus - which kind of technological family the technology belongs too - and the threat posed.

What could be considered the "blue whale" of the list, the species that is on the brink of extinction, is the HD 3000 high-definition TV tuner card.

When slotted into a PC it turns computers into a personal video recorder (PVR) capable of receiving high-definition programmes.

From 1 July in the US, it will be illegal to manufacture the cards because of a mandate from the US broadcasting regulatory body, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), called the Broadcast Flag.

We hope it will turn more people into activist in these issues and that it will make more people realise that the copyright wars are not just about arcane flags and TV signals
Wendy Seltzer, EFF attorney
It states that companies can only create equipment that works with the flag in digital broadcasts.

Essentially, the flag is a small bit of data that is put into a digital broadcast. It tells digital receivers the level of protection on a programme, for example, so that copying can be controlled.

"We are seeing more and more issues like this where technology is under attack by law of regulation or litigation," Wendy Seltzer, attorney for the EFF, told the BBC News website.

"We wanted to come up with ways that are more engaging to people to get them to understand the threat to their favourite technologies."

Also high up on the "endangered" category are multimedia devices that let people create, record, transmit, play back, and share music, movies, and other kinds of digital content.

Firewire drives, open wi-fi access points, CD burner are all threatened, according to the EFF, because of the entertainment industry's push for a re-write of US copyright laws, such as the Induce Act.

Species: DVD X-Copy (Genus: DVD archiving program)
Species: Replay TV 4000 (Genus: personal video recorder)
Species: Streambox VCR (Genus: recorder for Real Audio)
Species: Advanced eBook Processor (Genus: decryptor of Adobe e-books)
Species: Napster 1.0 (Genus: File-sharing software)
Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation
The proposals for the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, or IICA, aims to make creators of new technologies liable for "inducing" copyright infringement.

Ms Seltzer said continued blanket legal action could end up putting people off trying out new technologies or being creative with content.

It could mean people stay away from technologies like CD burners - currently in the endangered category - because they can not predict whether they might be subject to a long, expensive litigation process, she explained.

Uncertainty over which technology may be considered illegal next could also mean that investors consider some technologies and devices too risky to back financially.

The list also recognises "good" laws that have brought certain species back from the brink of extinction.

The VCR, for example, was rescued by a US Supreme Court 1984 landmark ruling in Universal vs Sony.

It said that the Sony Betamax VCR would not be considered to be illegal technology just because people could potentially use it to infringe copyright.

Legal swathes

The MPA, the body which represents the industry worldwide, has had an anti-piracy program since 1976.

It estimates it loses $3 billion annually in potential worldwide revenue because of piracy. The figure does not include net piracy.

It has been taking legal action against file-sharing networks, DVD copying software firms, and other groups which it considers to be responsible for piracy since 2000.

The music industry has also taken action, which was stepped up in 2004.

The IFPI, which represents the recording industry worldwide, said that seven countries had joined the US to take legal action against people sharing music files online.

Apple iPod digital music player
Future product innovation could be stifled, says the EFF
Swathes of fresh legal action against file-sharing networks since December 2004 has caused many popular systems using BitTorrent technology to shut down.

On 29 March, the network Morpheus, owned by StreamCast, goes back to the US courts to argue that companies that run such systems cannot be held responsible if people use it to infringe copyrights.

Its defence against the entertainment industry is based on the 1984 Sony Betamax case and its argument has already been backed by District Courts and by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We hope [the list] will turn more people into activists in these issues and that it will make more people realise that the copyright wars are not just about arcane flags and TV signals," said Ms Seltzer.

What it is about, she added, is making people aware of restrictions being out in place on technologies which could impact what kind of next generation portable MP3 players they can get their hands on.

DVD copy protection strengthened
15 Feb 05 |  Technology
Movie body hits peer-to-peer nets
11 Feb 05 |  Technology
Head to head: Music copyright
10 Aug 04 |  Entertainment
'Embrace digital' says film boss
14 Oct 04 |  Technology
TV's future in the hands of viewers
07 Jan 05 |  Technology
Peer-to-peer nets 'here to stay'
21 Jan 05 |  Technology

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