Spotting Counterfeit Chips Is Hard; Spotting Digital Piracy Is Even Harder
from the harder-than-it-looks dept
One of the favorite techniques of those pushing for ever-more severe penalties for copyright infringement is to blur the distinction between analog counterfeits and digital copies. The argument then becomes: “counterfeit drugs can kill people, therefore we must come down hard on online filesharing.” This trick can be seen most clearly in ACTA, which stands for “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, but where the most problematic sections concern digital piracy, not counterfeits.
That false equivalence between counterfeits and digital copies is also employed to give the impression that since cheap knock-offs are pretty obvious, it’s easy to tell the difference between a legal digital file, and one that is unauthorised. However, unauthorised digital files are generally exact copies of authorised ones, making it impossible to tell them apart. What counts is whether the distribution is authorized, and there are all kinds of legal considerations like fair use or Creative Commons licensing that can make it very hard to tell without detailed legal scrutiny in a court.
Even the assumption that physical copies are relatively easy to spot is dubious, as this fascinating essay from Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang about counterfeit chips in military hardware explains. Here’s the background:
Amendment 1092 to the Defense Authorization Act of 2012 is a well-intentioned but misguided provision outlining measures designed to reduce the prevalance of counterfeit chips in the US military supply chain.
Under the proposed anti-counterfeit amendment, first-time offenders can receive a $5 million fine and 20 years prison for individuals, or $15 million for corporations; a penalty comparable to that of trafficking cocaine.
Huang then runs through the myriad ways in which counterfeits can be produced ? and why spotting them is hard.
Alongside “trivial external mimicry” ? authentic-looking but empty packages ? he mentions the following: refurbished parts (authentic parts recovered from e-waste); rebinned parts (authentic but with markings changed to a higher specification); ghost-shift parts (produced in the official factory by employees, but unofficially); factory scrap (rejects and pilot runs recovered from the scrap heap); and second-sourcing gone bad (pin-compatible replacements produced by competitors remarked as superior brands.)
As Huang points out:
It?s one thing to inspect fruits and vegetables as they enter the country for pests and other problems; but it is misguided to require Customs officers to become experts in detecting fakes, and/or to burden vendors with the onus of determining whether parts are authentic, particularly with such high penalties involved and the relative ease that forgers can create high-quality counterfeit parts.
Indeed; and much the same could be said about asking local enforcement authorities or ISPs to detect whether digital copies are legal or not. It’s yet another reason why ACTA is likely to have a chilling effect on the legitimate use of copyright materials online, and to throttle the next generation of digital innovation as a result.
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Filed Under: acta, conflation, counterfeits, digital, piracy
Comments on “Spotting Counterfeit Chips Is Hard; Spotting Digital Piracy Is Even Harder”
Counterfeiting is NOT equal to Filesharing…
Kudos to you Glen.. I’ve been wondering when I’d finally see that expressed somewhere..
Imo the fact that governments and corporations keep bundling them together is proof it’s not actually about either, but wanting control of the internet…
It has actually been expressed may times here at Techdirt, I am not sure if those exact words have been used before, but the overall concept
[(File)sharing of Unauthorized content ≠ Counterfeiting ≠ Infringement ≠ Theft] is a common one.
Re: Re: Indeed!
…expressed many times…
Stop talking about piracy
This isn’t about piracy. This has never been about piracy.
It’s about control, censorship, and monopolies. That is it. So let’s stop with this piracy nonsense and focus on the truth of what is really at hand.
Re: Stop talking about piracy
It’s not even that – it’s about criminalising the majority so that if you criticise the government, guess where you’ll spend a long time?
SOPA pundit: We will go only against rogue sites!”
Public: How will you detect rogue sites?
SOPA pundit: Well hmmm…We are going only after rogue sites that is all.
Public: So you don’t know how to detect rogue sites?
SOPA pundit: You are pirate that is why you are questioning the glorious law.
Send in the Lego Space Marines!
ps: Since Lego patents expired now everyone can make their own legos and make money out of it, is that not beautiful?
Why do we need copyrights again?
So that only one guy can claim ownership of the entire market?
Lego is trademarked, but the fact that what’s essentially a PD technology is making tons of money for franchises is hysterical comedy.
Counterfeits in military electronics
Has anyone wondered how fake chips get into military equipment? Well, where does the military get it’s equipment?
Who repairs/upgrades military equipment?
How old is the equipment being upgraded/repaired?
Answer: 10 to 20 years.
How do you get ahold of 10 to 20 year old chips?
The problem here is NOT counterfeiting. It is simple economics. The supplies are out, so the subcontractors use whatever they can get. This is a total red herring.
Re: Counterfeits in military electronics
… and who gets the contract?
– lowest bidder
Re: Re: Counterfeits in military electronics
Correction: it’s the highest donator to the Government5 coffers, in return for ridiculously low bids for government contracts.
“However, unauthorised digital files are generally exact copies of authorised ones, making it impossible to tell them apart.”
It’s incredibly easy to spot legal digital files – you obtain them from the source, not some third party.
The problem solves itself when you stop dealing with shady middlemen.
The point is if you had Billy Idol’s White Wedding, and downloaded it legally. Then mixed it up with a 100 other copies of the same song obtained by other means, you would be hard pressed, just looking at the bits, to know which was the legally obtained copy.
That’s the point of digital copies, they are perfect replicas, or the copy process would be flawed. I know I wouldn’t want to copy a Word document only to open it and find half the words changed.
Indeed. I wish Glen had made the exact same point by writing something like “What counts is whether the distribution is authorized” as the very next sentence.
So Itunes is a shady middleman? got it.
That would also mean that, technically, the big media is also a shady middleman because, the artists are the actual source…
I am all for this vision…Lets cut Big Media out of the picture!
Is this secretly a wish for identification DRM?
Is this point of this post your opposition to ACTA? If so, you should target details in the bill, not highlight the fact that it is hard to differentiate authorized distribution of digital copies from infringing distribution. By saying that the distinction is difficult to make you are providing another reason to for companies to avoid releasing their works in the digital format.