Members of the image-processing and machine-vision industry should unite under the auspices of a common organization to effectively combat the threat of cyber crimes.
After their initial success in removing Napster from the digital airwaves, music-label and movie-studio companies again tried to protect their products last month, suing the makers and distributors of Napster look-alike Web sites for copyright infringement. The usual plaintiffs—MGM, Columbia, and Sony—claim that a file-sharing program used by Grokster (Nevis, West Indies), Music City (Franklin, TN) networks, and Consumer Empowerment BV (Amsterdam, The Netherlands) "developed and controlled a network largely dedicated to the repeated and exploitative unauthorized distribution and reproduction of plaintiffs' protected works."
The works include music, software, and movies. Jack Valenti, president of the movie-rating organization Motion Picture Association of America, said that those named in the suit sought to profit from works protected by copyright, without obtaining the copyright owners' permission. The suit seeks $150,000 for each infringed work.
This month, while researching a number of news and feature stories on the Web, I came across a similar kind of piracy. Reputable companies have stolen copyrighted articles from Vision Systems Design and placed them on their Web sites for product-promotion purposes. To make matters worse, most of these companies never bothered to contact the magazine's editorial department for permission.
These vendors visited our magazine's Web site (www.vision-systems.com), cut and pasted complete stories along with original art and images, and reformatted the text for their own sites. Now, there are many who would say, and I would not entirely disagree with them, that this was all for the good of the industry, and, indeed, promotion of the magazine. But, like posting copyrighted songs, copying articles without permission is illegal and subject to prosecution.
According to industry watchers of illegal file-sharing sites, copies of expensive programs such as Adobe Illustrator are being swapped daily on such sites. So far, however, I know of no commercially available image-processing software that is being illegally copied in this manner. Indeed, because of the relative small size of businesses in the vision/imaging market and the nature of such software, it is doubtful whether any such illegal activity would have the same financial effect as it has had on the music industry.
Nevertheless, the rapid proliferation of modern communications systems does make it easy for someone to transmit such software, use illegal decompilers, and then use the specific algorithms in the software as part of their own imaging package. And since the introduction of the Java language, the threat of reverse engineering has increased because Java is compiled into a platform-independent byte-code format.
To combat the effects of such illegal activities, magazine publishers and software vendors can employ sophisticated digital techniques. Digital watermarking is one technique currently being discussed to protect the use of electronic images on the Internet. Software vendors also have other means they can use.
For several years, manufacturers used the "dreaded dongle" to ensure that only authorized users could copy or use specific software applications. Unfortunately, OEMs and end users alike did not react favorably when asked to tie up their RS-232 ports. But other methods do exist. These include code-obfuscation methods that transform programs so they become more difficult to understand. Unfortunately, although such programs are identical to their originals, the added code that they impose could result in slower program execution.
Just as Cognex Corp. (Natick, MA) has initiated legal actions to oust the overpowering Lemuelson Foundation regime and their dubious machine-vision patents, members of the image-processing and machine-vision industry should unite under the auspices of a common organization to effectively combat the threat of cyber crimes. This unified group would enable small companies to effectively pursue costly lawsuits and bring to justice those responsible for the mass theft of intellectual software and unjust patent lawsuit-infringement suits.
by Andy Wilson