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Libre software developers receive cease-and-desist letters

By FreeNSK in Technology
Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 10:33:00 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

I interviewed open source developers Alexander No and Zeb who created some free software utilities for Plextor DVD recorders. No wrote PxScan and PxView for Windows, while Zeb ported them to GNU/Linux under the name PxLinux. The utilities send special commands to the drives, activating their special features, such as media quality checks. Unfortunately, someone wasn't happy with their efforts, as the parent company of Plextor sent them cease-and-desist letters accusing them of using "unfair commercial practices"...

Yesterday I find out this forum where libre software developers Alexander No and Zeb first publicised that they received cease-and-desist letters from a law firm in Brussels representing Shinano Kenshi, the Japanese company which controls the Plextor brand and develops Plextools (R) for Windows.

I wrote an article about this issue and I located the developers, asking them for an interview. They happily agreed, and I interviewed Alexander No through IRC chat and Zeb through email. They agreed to license their interviews under a "verbatim copying" licence, which means you can copy and re-publish them. Please help to publicise this story!

PxScan/PxView and PxLinux are free/libre open-source (FLOSS) software utilities which allow owners of Plextor PX-712 and PX-716 DVD recorders to use the extra features of these drives.

The extra features of Plextor drives, often called Q-Check functions, are actually SCSI command sequences, implemented over the more common ATA protocol, which allow the drive to perform advanced error detection and correction, including media quality check. Plextor customers who wish to use these extra features need to install special software, but Plextor provides it only for the Microsoft Windows operating system. PxLinux allows GNU/Linux users to perform C1, C2, PIE, PIF, Jitter, Beta, and TA testing on Plextor drives that support these functions. According to a PxLinux developer, the interface of Plextor drives is standard MMC-3 (MultiMedia Command) SCSI compliant. The MMC3 interface is publicly available. (Source: cdfreaks.com forum).

According to this source, the PxScan/PxView/PxLinux developers Alexander No and Zeb, are accused by Shinano Kenshi's lawyers for:

  • Using "unfair commercial practices" because they allegedly compared and announced that their software is an alternative for Plextools.
  • Harming the company's "good name and fame" because of the alleged comparisons between PxScan and PlexTools.
  • Infringing various intellectual rights of the company, including "The right of reproduction, translation, adaptation, arrangement and any other alteration of a computer program and the reproduction of the results thereof as well as the right to control all and any form of distribution and dissemination. Infringement of the author rights (and where applicable, copyright) in relation with protected interfaces. The trademark of the company".

PxLinux was hosted at SourceForge.net for awhile, before being deleted from there after the site received a legal complaint.

It should be noted that recently Mr. Dirk Peters, Plextor's director of Marketing, said that "Plextor is strongly committed to supporting the Open Source Software movement" (source: Slashdot.org). Given the new developments, it is difficult to explain the actual attitude of Plextor / Shinano Kenshi towards libre software.

The interview with Alexander No:

Alexander No is a student at Chemnitz, Germany and he created the PxScan and PxView utilities for Windows (released under the GPL). He received the letter in an email, not in actual paper. As you will see in the interview, a professional lawyer said that in his opinion none of the accusations are justified.

NSK: Hello, please introduce yourself and briefly describe the utilities you developed.

Alexander No: I'm Alexander No:, currently studying computer science at TU-Chemnitz. The utilities PxScan/PxView i've developed perform error scans on Plextor PX-712/716 and Plextor Premium drives. The tests are the same, but PlexTools had some handling I didn't like, for example you can run several tests on DVDs, but in PlexTools you couldn't trigger them at once, but rather had to trigger one test at one time. My goal was just to make all that more convenient.

NSK: You received a letter via email about these utilities. Who sent the letter and what did it say?

Alexander No: The letter was sent by lawyers working for Shinano Kenshi. The Lawyers claim those utilities would violate their clients rights.

NSK: Have you replied to this letter?

Alexander No: No, I haven't.

NSK: Why do you think the lawyers sent this letter, and what are their requests?

Alexander No: Plextor maybe sees me as competitor. However, they don't offer any Linux version, neither free nor for money, so I have absolutely no idea what their problem with pxlinux could possibly be. They demand that I cease-and-desist from any further infringements, and demand that I compile a list of all steps I've taken to ensure that their clients' rights will no longer be infringed.

NSK: Have you contacted a professional lawyer yet? Did you receive any legal advice?

Alexander No: A professional lawyer said that in his opinion, none of the accusations made by Shinano are justified.

NSK: Is the letter confidential, can you post it for everyone to see?

Alexander No: The letter itself is not explicitely marked as such, but I'm not sure if I have the right to publish an email sent to me in general without the sender agreeing on this.

NSK: In the last years there are increasingly more legal problems for free/libre/open-source software projects. Now software patents may be introduced in Europe. What are your views on this issue?

Alexander No: I *really* hope that software patents will not be introduced, but I can't do much about it... as I don't really understand lawyer and politician language, like most people, I can hardly assess the consequences software patents would cause, but it wouldn't make life of free developers easier.

NSK: What do you plan to do now?

Alexander No: I'm waiting what will happen....

NSK: Anything more you want to say?

Alexander No: Considering that Plextor did, not long ago, announce that they would be supporting open-source, I really wonder what all this is supposed to be about. Either they support open-source, or at least "tolerate" it, or they don't.

NSK: The interview appears to be finished. Thank you very much!

The interview with Zeb

Zeb has developed PxLinux, a port of PxScan/PxView to the GNU/Linux operating system (PxScan and PxView were developed by Alexander No and run on Windows). Zeb lives in the United Kingdom and, just like No, he received the letter in an email, not in actual paper.

NSK: Hello, please introduce yourself and briefly describe the software you developed.

Zeb: Hi, I'm Zeb, I am living in UK and programming is one of my hobbies during my spare time. I am particularly interested in Free software development. Overall, the Free software movement gave a breath of fresh air in the computing area, at the amateur and professional levels. I bought a PX-716A DVD writer a couple of months ago. Not only Plextor had a very good reputation (that I checked by myself, I had several Plextor CD writers in the past), but I was also interested in the special feature of the drive, called Q-check, allowing to do media quality scans before and after burning. However, the software suite (PlexTools(r)) bundled with the drive was only compatible with Windows. As I am a Linux user, I wanted to develop a software to be able to perform these Q-checks, and possibly share this with other Linux users. After all, Linux users who bought a Plextor DVD burner buyers payed exactly the same price than Windows users, and would like to enjoy their burner as much as Windows users do. Moreover, these features are an incentive to chose Plextor over their competitors. After I discovered Alexander's work on the Internet, I contacted him. Straight away he shared his code with me. What interested me were the SCSI commands to trigger the various QChecks. The interface of the burner is entirely standard, and the specifications are published (MMC-3 SCSI compliant). It took me a couple of hours to do a first, quick and dirty, version of PxScan for Linux (also called PxLinux). I did not even have to write the C++ functions to access the drive, since the drive has a standard interface. These functions were of course available as part of any Free burning software. Moreover, the response of the drive is plain and clear, and need just to be displayed as histograms (for this I used Gnuplot). Finally, in order to make the code legally distributable, Alexander offered the code under the GPL license. Thus I deposited the code on Sourceforge (where the project has been temporarily removed).

NSK: You received a letter via email about these utilities. Who sent the letter and what did it say?

Zeb: I received an email with an attached PDF document. The letter was sent by a european lawyer company hired by Shinano Kenshi, Plextor's parent company. In this letter they claimed Alexander and me were violating their copyrights, their rights in relation with "protected interfaces", and that we "committed unfair commercial practices". They also sent letters to various websites, saying we were using their forums to promote our "illegal" software...

NSK: Have you contacted a professional lawyer yet? Did you receive any legal advice?

Zeb: Yes. We have the same legal advice. [Ed: See also the interview with Alexander No].

NSK: Have you replied to this letter?

Zeb: No. Not yet, we seek legal advice before doing official statements.

NSK: Why do you think the lawyers sent this letter, and what are their requests?

Zeb: They have asked to drop PxScan and PxLinux, to remove them and stop talking about them. Their motivations are not known yet, since we had no contact with Plextor anyhow. Of course, since Plextor is now trying to sell a version of their PlexTools software, some people suggest they could see PxScan as a competitor. However, Plextor does not make any Linux version of PlexTools. I don't ask them to support Linux, this is their choice (bad in my opinion), but at least to respect the freedom of their consumers to use their hardware as they intend. Plextools, PxScan and PxLinux can perfectly and legally coexist. Lots of proprietary and Free software do exactly the same task, take Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or Gimp. Also, that would be good to have a conversation with people at Plextor, so that they could clarify the position of the company about Free software and third-party work. I was not expecting such a reaction from a company that declared recently about their new video capture device, ConvertX : "Plextor is strongly committed to supporting the Open Source Software movement with free development tools that help speed the creation of next-generation Linux-based video software," said Dirk Peters, director of marketing, Plextor. "The release of this SDK was a direct response to requests from the user community for an easier way to work with Plextor ConvertX video capture devices on computers running Linux." So is their support to Free software community just a PR exercise ?

NSK: Is the letter confidential, can you post it for everyone to see?

Zeb: Same answer with Alexander's. [Ed: See also the interview with Alexander No].

NSK: In the last years there are increasingly more legal problems for free/libre/open-source software projects. Now software patents may be introduced in Europe. What are your views on this issue?

Zeb: Software is the expression of ideas, and ideas should not be patentable. Patents are today a big threat for the innovation. During the 19th century, patents were used to protect small inventors against the industry giants. Now the situation has been reversed: big companies can easily threaten small businesses and inventors with bogus patents that have been accepted without any serious review of their validity or their originality. On the other hand, the "copyright" legal frame - the other form of intellectual protection - is suitable for software. Contrary to patents, copyright protects not the ideas, but their expression: the source code. You can protect your own work, you can also relax the terms of that protection (which is the case with Free licenses), but cannot prevent others to make a similar work, even based on similar ideas. What if one author had been able to patent the "cartoon" genre, would Disney and Tex Avery not been able to create their own cartoons ? Do you want a world with Photoshop as the only image manipulation software, or Word, as the only text-processing software ? Last but not least, 20 year-long patents are simply ludicrous at the computing level. In 20 years, we went from the Sinclair ZX81 to 4GHz dual core processors. I really hope that the European Parliament will be able to stand against the patents, especially at a moment when US companies, including Microsoft, urge to review the conditions for software to be patented. Michel Rocard, the rapporteur of the European Parliament on the software patent directive has made good propositions to prevent that pure software ideas may be patented. I hope he will be listen to by the Commission. Note that our legal problem with Plextor does not concern patents anyway. The communication interface with Plextor burners is standard, and standards cannot be protected.

NSK: What do you plan to do now?

Zeb: Wait and see...

NSK: Anything more you want to say?

Zeb: I wish that Plextor's people could contact us and have some discussion, instead of treating their (ex-) good customers with legal threats. Therefore they have to clarify their position and say if really they support the Open Source Software movement.

About the interviewer: NSK is a 23-years old nerd with unusual interests, a computer science student, and open source programmer (PHP, Java) from Europe who maintains the website Wikinerds.org, a federation of wikis focusing on libre software, science, nerd culture and freedom. He is a vegetarian, a GNU/Linux and KDE (and occasionally GNOME) user as well as a Hurd and BSD admirer, a bilingual (English and Greek), cellular Internet blogger and prolific FreeCiv player.

The text of this article is Copyright (C) 2005 by Alexander No, Zeb, and NSK. Verbatim copying and redistribution of the entire text of this article are permitted provided this notice is preserved and a reference to its original locations is provided: http://portal.wikinerds.org/interview-alex-noe-2005jun and http://portal.wikinerds.org/interview-zeb-2005jun

Comments on licensing: Alexander No holds the copyright of his answers to the interview, Zeb holds the copyright to his own answers to the other interview, and NSK is the author and copyright holder of the questions and the rest of the text. NSK's text, not including the interview questions and the "About the interviewer" paragraph, are also released under the CC-by-SA-2 licence, which allows modification.


Voxel dot net
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Your reaction?
o I support Alexander Noe and Zeb 61%
o I support the corporation 12%
o I support neither 7%
o No reaction 17%

Votes: 39
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o this forum
o Shinano Kenshi
o controls
o Plextor
o Plextools
o article
o publicly available
o cdfreaks.c om forum
o this source
o SourceForg e.net
o legal complaint
o Slashdot.o rg
o Germany
o United Kingdom
o ConvertX
o programmer
o Wikinerds. org
o wikis
o nerd culture
o Linux
o Hurd
o cellular Internet blogger
o FreeCiv
o player
o NSK [2]
o http://por tal.wikinerds.org/interview-alex-noe-2005jun
o http://por tal.wikinerds.org/interview-zeb-2005jun
o CC-by-SA-2
o Also by FreeNSK

Display: Sort:
Libre software developers receive cease-and-desist letters | 51 comments (25 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
Let me add... (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon Jun 06, 2005 at 09:16:20 PM EST

Something to this story...

This Link.

Look carefully, as this is the administrative ticket given to PxLinux tools.

Wow, who is that 'Hemos' Guy? Could it be him?

added (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by FreeNSK on Mon Jun 06, 2005 at 10:25:03 PM EST

I added it, because the link provides more information about this issue, but this shouldn't be perceived as encouragement of anti-hemos sentiments (actually I don't know hemos). I see, however, that hemos rightly asked for a formal dmca notice.

=== NSK ===

[ Parent ]
I can understand that... (none / 1) (#13)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon Jun 06, 2005 at 11:22:48 PM EST

Ok, I admit I was being over-zealous about hating Hemos. I do notice the request for a DMCA letter sent by certified channels (be hemos).

I also notice the line: "Changed to Closed status by: hemos"

Where's a copy of the DMCA letter sent to Sourceforge? We know one was sent to the creators (cause they said they got them). Where's the statement that Sourceforge received those very letters and acted upon them?

[ Parent ]

Minor Nit (none / 1) (#15)
by ewhac on Tue Jun 07, 2005 at 02:36:13 AM EST

No, they did not get a DMCA takedown notice; they got a cease-and-desist request from Plextor's lawyers. Different animal entirely.

Editor, A1-AAA AmeriCaptions. Priest, Internet Oracle.
[ Parent ]

DMCA or C&D... it makes no difference.. (none / 1) (#24)
by The Amazing Idiot on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 01:47:08 AM EST

If Sourceforge's admin (hemos for this project) chooses to comply, why not lift "responsibility" by posting the full C&D letter?

That'd make sourceforge look innocent as they're being bullied by the 'big bad bully' (plextor japan subsudiaries in this case). Right now, Sourceforge AND Hemos is just looking bad, along with Plextor.

[ Parent ]

I think (none / 1) (#25)
by FreeNSK on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 02:48:01 AM EST

I think they (sf.net) just wanted to protect themselves. I am sure they know that modern megacorps are fcking crazy about their copyrights. SF.net projects are checked by a real human before being accepted, so sf.net couldn't say "we just didn't see it". I have a wiki where I deleted stuff after a copyright holder asked me to do so. Slashdot was also forced to delete copyrighted stuff.

=== NSK ===

[ Parent ]
Copyright? (none / 0) (#39)
by The Amazing Idiot on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 12:23:04 PM EST

IIRC, this issue was about defamation of name and "violating IP" (whatever they mean in this case.. guessing patents).

Its one thing to simply copy from 1 source and pretend as it's your own. Thats plagarism or at the very least, violation of  copyright.

Also, the issue with Slashdot's Scientology problem, that was because some posters saw it benefecial to copy to the general public parts of their books. Even though they parade as a religious org, they are nothing but crooks.

I fault slashdot too for not publishing the C&D about that too. You can easily show "how bad" someone is by quoting what they say (AND attributing it to them). Slashdot could have had a nice writeup about them.

If people want to play with the 'law', then be prepared to be looking like the worst enemy to everyone. Ill comply if I must, but I WILL BRING THEM DOWN TOO.

[ Parent ]

stop drinking hatorade (none / 0) (#41)
by reidbold on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 03:48:20 PM EST

SourceForge.net hasn't bullied anyone here, the article doesn't even implicate this. I don't see how SF's honesty regarding the state of the account is acting in any bad faith, they are simply trying to dodge plextors brothel of lawyers. As bogus as plextors claim may be, it's not SF's job to act as legal protection to the guys who wrote the software.

[ Parent ]
It's him (none / 0) (#38)
by Eddie the Jedi on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 11:38:26 AM EST

Jeff Bates is the real name of Slashdot's co-creator Hemos.

[ Parent ]
Although this kind of thing normally gets me angry (1.66 / 3) (#18)
by stuaart on Tue Jun 07, 2005 at 04:04:25 PM EST

This article is just too long for me to even care. -1, +1, or +1FP will be chosen at random.

Linkwhore: [Hidden stories.] Baldrtainment: Corporate concubines and Baldrson: An Introspective

0. Blurb about yourself belongs on your.. (3.00 / 5) (#19)
by sudog on Tue Jun 07, 2005 at 07:15:38 PM EST

..personal "About" page, not in the body of your article. Why the editor suggestions didn't catch this is beyond me.

A thought on licences (2.55 / 9) (#34)
by wobblywizard on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 09:46:40 AM EST

Lose the last paragraph. I mean it's all well-intentioned, but I hate these fuckung pretentious copyright-wankers. I'm a law student myself, so I have to read and work with that shit on a daily basis; I don't need it on K5. Really, who the fuck needs to know who holds the copyrights to any given piece of work?? It's not like this is War and Peace or something. Together with your gratituos fucking biography it just SCREAMS of self-aggrandisement. Fuck, I'm so annoyed, I can hardly even spell anymore!

You never win an argument with anyone who fucks you or signs your paychecks. I just smile, bite my lip and sip my drink. --Philalawyer

answer (2.00 / 2) (#36)
by FreeNSK on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 09:52:57 AM EST

The licence allows you to know your rights and obligations regarding this text. If I didn't include it, nobody would knew that they can copy it. After all, it's the licence I proposed to Noe and Zeb and they agreed with it when I interviewed them, and the licence says it should be included with the text, so I am doing exactly what the licence says. It also ensures that readers will be able to find the original source of the text, even if it gets republished a billion times.

=== NSK ===

[ Parent ]
republished a billion times: delusions of grandeur (2.33 / 3) (#37)
by wobblywizard on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 11:06:16 AM EST

You never win an argument with anyone who fucks you or signs your paychecks. I just smile, bite my lip and sip my drink. --Philalawyer
[ Parent ]

The put it in a comment!! (none / 0) (#48)
by mr strange on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 04:03:34 AM EST

I've suggested this to you several times. If you are really concerned to free your work, then that's admirable. Just mention it in a comment. It will always stay with the article, but it won't distract readers who don't care.

intrigued by your idea that fascism is feminine - livus
[ Parent ]
Would be interesting... (none / 0) (#40)
by nate s on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 01:08:25 PM EST

...to know who were the "professional lawyers" they got that opinion from.  They seem pretty sketchy overall on the details of their legal problems and responses.

I agree (none / 1) (#49)
by jolly st nick on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 08:26:26 AM EST

I'd like to know if these were legal generalists or lawyers specifically experienced in technology cases like this.

You can't get in trouble by advising your client not to do something.

[ Parent ]

Article unethical (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by blackpaw on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 06:52:06 PM EST

You've included closed source code in a GPL'd source and published it with advertising for your site.

You refused patches for the code:
- Fixing the mis-usage of "Libre" (for Free)
- Removing the advertising
- removing the redundant personal info

Then when I forked it you objected violently.

All in all I think your GPL claims are a fraud, that your articles pay lip service to the concept, in reality it is self-aggrandizement coupled with an inability to relinquish sole control.

If you think it doesn't matter look at the comments on this article - 90% are objections to your licensing, web site advertising and personal info in the article.

trolling (1.00 / 9) (#43)
by FreeNSK on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 08:04:59 PM EST

"when I forked it you objected violently"

Trolls don't have the right to fork!

=== NSK ===

[ Parent ]
Get some perspective (none / 1) (#44)
by blackpaw on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 08:20:06 PM EST

Just because you don't like my comments does not make them trolls, the world does not revolve around your opinions.

[ Parent ]
if it isn't trolling then what is it? [n/t] (none / 0) (#46)
by FreeNSK on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 01:45:20 AM EST

=== NSK ===

[ Parent ]
Are you being deliberately obtuse ? (none / 0) (#47)
by blackpaw on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 02:04:31 AM EST

Read the messages

[ Parent ]
I know that trick (2.25 / 4) (#45)
by xL on Wed Jun 08, 2005 at 08:49:01 PM EST

I used it all the way through highschool to aggrevate my teachers: Be technically correct about something and be a complete asshat about it. But, really, I had some objections against the long license text when the article was in the edit queue and probably would have voted it down for that reason. Your introduction of a 'forked' version, however, turned the normal process for rejecting articles into a mess.

Even if I cast aside my opinion that you're just not acting like a gentleman here, there were now two identical articles to be voted on and there was no way of knowing for sure whether your 'fork' was gaining on the original without casting a vote. It made sense to vote for the original and turn down yours. Others may have been more direct in their reasoning and just filed you away as an asshat.

It would have been more strategic for you to wait for the original to get voted down and then pull your fork-stunt. It might have tempted at least me to vote in favor.

[ Parent ]

Imposter! (2.33 / 3) (#50)
by LibreNSK on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 10:37:47 AM EST

You can tell I'm the real NSK. I don't use ideologically weak words like 'free'.

"A gimp, not a troll."
This text is Copyright (C) 2005 by NSK.

OT: Not Ideology (none / 1) (#51)
by Alfie on Thu Jun 09, 2005 at 01:42:11 PM EST

People use the term "libre" rather than "free" to avoid ambiguity. The choice has nothing directly to do with ideology because both terms, as the user intends them, mean exactly the same thing: "Exempt from subjection to the will of others; not under restraint, control, or compulsion; able to follow one's own impulses, desires, or inclinations; determining one's own course of action; not dependent; at liberty."

To repeat: The point of using "libre" is to avoid ambiguity inherent in the term "free", which can also mean "at no monetary cost" (and frequently is used that way in commercials and advertisements).

[ Parent ]
Libre software developers receive cease-and-desist letters | 51 comments (25 topical, 26 editorial, 0 hidden)
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