[free-sklyarov] <nettime> sony dogs aibohack site

Jon O . jono at microshaft.org
Fri Nov 2 12:45:32 PST 2001

This was reported last week but this is a good story.

It seems likely that Linux kernel programmers and security researchers
would have more to fear from the DMCA than the owners and users of a 
Robot Dog, but Sony is after them now too. Seems to support Alan Cox's 
decision to sensor notes and things in the Linux kernel...

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Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2001 08:49:46 -0100
From: "nettime's_rovering_reporter" <nettime at bbs.thing.net>
To: nettime-l at bbs.thing.net
Subject: <nettime> sony dogs aibohack site
Precedence: bulk
Reply-To: "nettime's_rovering_reporter" <nettime at bbs.thing.net>

     [via <tbyfield at panix.com>. another day, another future: sony
      invokes the DMCA to prevent people--and given the price of
      an aibo, mostly adults--from sharing tips and tricks on how
      to hack robotic dogs. quiz: is drawing a parallel between 
      this and doing the same to a living thing: (a) a theoretical
      trap, (b) an inane misunderstanding, (c) a ruthless insight
      into social morphology, or (d) other? answer: it's a trick
      question, because the referent of 'this' isn't clear. "Looking 
      at the last two years, I probably spent more time doing unpaid 
      technical support for Sony than I have playing with my dog. But 
      it's been rewarding. I've met people throughout the world." 
      --cheers, t]


   November 1, 2001
   Sony Dogs Aibo Enthusiast's Site
   The company uses a controversial law to stop owners from
   altering the robotic pet. Some consumers balk.

   Sony Corp. is using a controversial U.S. law aimed at protecting
   intellectual property to pull the plug on a Web site that helps owners
   of Aibo, Sony's popular and pricey robotic pet, teach their electronic
   dogs new tricks.

   Aibo owners are outraged, and hundreds have vowed to stop buying Sony
   products altogether until the company backs off. Sony has sold more
   than 100,000 Aibos worldwide since 1999, at prices ranging from $800
   to $3,000. The dogs have spawned a community of enthusiasts who fuss
   over the mechanical marvels as if they were real canines.

   Last week, Sony executives sent a letter to the operator of a Web
   site, http://www.aibohack.com, alleging that much of the site's
   contents-programs and software tools that can modify the Aibo's
   behavior--was created and distributed in ways that violate the Digital
   Millennium Copyright Act. The 1998 law was designed to combat the
   duplication of digitized materials, which can be easily distributed
   instantaneously worldwide on the Internet. Violators can face monetary
   damages and even prison time, depending on the nature of the
   violation. In a prepared statement, Sony officials said they asked
   only for removal of material it considered illegal and encouraged the
   distribution of Aibo-related materials that they did not believe
   infringed the company's rights.

   Sony sells a number of software kits, usually for about $150, that
   allow Aibo users to modify the dog's behavior. The software tools
   removed from the Web site are easier to use and more powerful,
   according to users--and are available for free.

   "We do not support the development of software that is created by
   manipulating existing Sony Aibo-ware code, copying it and/or
   distributing it via the Internet," the company said. "This is a clear
   case of copyright infringement, something that most Aibo owners can
   appreciate and respectfully understand."

   Critics of the DMCA say the law upsets the delicate balance between
   the rights of copyright holders to protect their intellectual property
   and the rights of everyone else to use such items to develop their own
   works. That has sparked increasing concern in Congress as scientists,
   librarians, researchers and consumer groups have voiced opposition to
   the law.

   "On the surface, Sony appears to be using portions of the DMCA in an
   attempt to keep people from putting the company's product to new and
   interesting uses," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic
   Frontier Foundation, a civil rights group. "This is exactly the sort
   of thing we've been concerned about."

   Cohn said that if Congress does not act, the courts will eventually
   have to repair the situation. "Sooner or later, this is going to come
   to a head," she said. "This is a critical societal problem. If we can
   no longer stand on the shoulders of giants, take a cool thing somebody
   has made and make it a little bit cooler, progress is stunted, perhaps

   Bob Harting, a Santa Monica potter, has programmed his three
   Aibos--Sparky, Agent Aibo and Aibojangles--to perform a syncopated
   dance routine to Madonna's "Vogue."

   "It's just impossible to do this sort of thing with the Sony tools,"
   he said, as the dogs danced to the music in his living room. "I have
   bought every accessory made for the Aibo, and nearly every bit of
   equipment in my apartment--television, VCRs, computers--is from Sony,"
   Harting said. "But I'm not comfortable giving them more money until
   this is resolved."

   The man behind Aibohack.com, who goes by the screen name Aibopet and
   asked to not be identified, removed the contested material from the
   site, leaving it largely empty except for links to other sites that
   have organized protests against Sony. He said he incorporates Sony's
   code into his programs but that no one is harmed. His programs give
   Aibo owners the ability to manipulate their robot dogs, but only if
   the user has a legitimate copy of Sony's software. He said that Sony
   benefits from his work because it generates consumer enthusiasm for
   Aibo. Although he's upset about being forced to take his tools off the
   Internet, he said he has no plans to litigate the matter.

   Before Aibohack.com went down, it saw 400 to 600 visitors a day, many
   of whom downloaded Aibopet's tools. One of the programs, AiboScope,
   wirelessly transmits images from the robot's camera to a computer.
   Another, Disco Aibo, programs Aibo to dance when it hears a specific
   song. The most recent program is Brainbo, which combines
   voice-recognition software with a library of answers to various
   questions. Users can ask the robot a question, and it will pull from
   the database to lip sync an answer.

   Aibopet said he has posted more than 1,500 comments, tips and answers
   to Aibosite.com in the last two years.

   "I guess you could call it a hobby, but it has gotten a little out of
   control at times. I just enjoy programming," Aibopet said. "Looking at
   the last two years, I probably spent more time doing unpaid technical
   support for Sony than I have playing with my dog. But it's been
   rewarding. I've met people throughout the world."

   Experts say Sony risks angering Aibo enthusiasts to the point that
   they might hurt sales of Aibo and related merchandise but could boost
   sales of its own software tools. It's a big risk said David A. Aaker,
   vice chairman of Prophet, a brand strategy consulting firm.

   Other companies that have faced similar situations have made the
   opposite choice.

   Lego Co., a Danish company that makes the classic plastic interlocking
   children's toy, introduced a computer-controlled set in 1998.
   MindStorms, as the kit is called, offers users the ability to add
   motors and an onboard computer to control the creation's behavior.
   Almost as soon as the toy was introduced, enthusiasts rewrote the
   software to allow for more complex operation. After much
   consideration, Lego decided to endorse such hacking, provided that
   nobody turns their software into a commercial product and that Lego
   trademarks aren't used.

   "The decision wasn't easy to make," said Lego spokesman Michael
   McNally. "We were obviously concerned that if this got out of hand, we
   could lose control of what we hold as our own. But we decided that if
   we made this easier for them, they'd be less inclined to change it and
   dilute it. In a way, we're protecting our own interests."

   McNally said the decision has helped build the Lego community, but he
   concedes that Lego's decision was largely made to boost sales.

   "We're like any other company," he said. "This was about taking the
   brand forward, creating a larger fan base; and what company wouldn't
   want to do that? It contributes to the bottom line."
                      Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times

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