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RE: [dvd-discuss] [OT] Money-where-your-mouth-is department

At 13:38 -0700 10/11/02, Michael A Rolenz wrote:
>Let's consider another hypothetical...there once was this company that had
>a great idea. They mailed out in Forbes magazine these scanners. They gave
>them away at RadioShafts. They mailed them to people who requested them.
>ANd then when people started to use them in ways they didn't like they
>mailed out a bunch of letters saying "you are violating our intellectual
>property. We didn't give you authorization to reverse engineer our
>product"...starts to sound a little too close for my comfort...

This was the :CueCat handheld barcode scanner, from a company called 
Digital:Convergence (who apparently was obsessed with colons).  I 
received one of these in the mail, as I had a subscription to Wired 
at the time.  Wired would stick :CueCat barcodes in the ads in their 
magazines.  The idea was that you would connect the scanner (which 
looked like a little cat) to your computer, scan the barcode, and be 
automatically taken to the web site of the company that placed the 
ad.  Plus, the information would be sent back to Digital:Convergence, 
so they could track what ads you scanned.  There were also plans to 
let you scan the UPC codes of other products to get information about 
them.  Also, every :CueCat had a unique serial number, and you had to 
register the software before using it, so DC would have a nice list 
of everything you scanned tied to your name, income level, etc.

It was a lame idea, since you could just type in the URL from the ad 
by hand, and who wants to let some company know every web site 
they're interested in just to save a little typing?  But the 
marketing people liked it, salivating over the data they'd collect. 
Also, the scanners were of decent quality, and they were to be had 
for free at any Radio Shack just by asking for one.

So, people starting figuring out other uses for them, of course.  The 
way it encodes the barcode to send it to the computer got 
reverse-engineered, and people started writing little applications so 
that you could, for instance, use it build a database of the books 
your library by scanning the ISBN number on the book and 
automatically looking it up on Amazon.com.  Or you could make a 
catalog of your CDs the same way.  Or scan the wine bottles in your 
cellar to keep track of your large wine cellar.  Or various other 
innovative things people came up with for it.

Then DC started to get upset, since they manufactured millions of 
these things and gave them away for free.  They tried to C&D the 
programmers who reverse engineered the (extremely weak) encryption on 
the barcode, so of course zillions of mirrors of the :CueCat 
decryption software sprang up.  Some discussion was had, and most 
agreed that since the :CueCat was received, unsolicited, in the mail, 
it was considered a gift, and you could legally do whatever you 
wanted with it, notwithstanding the shrinkwrap license on the 
(Windows-only) CD-ROM that came with it.  Eventually they went out of 
business, and I don't think there was ever a legal case.


Anyway, just a little background.  My :CueCat is still collecting 
dust in a drawer, since I don't have a PS/2 port on my Mac. :)  A 
google search on "cuecat" will reveal all the software you want, and 
other information about the company.