Bill's Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2005

"Hackers" in the Media

The Associated Press has an article (linked via Yahoo - I'll get to why I posted Yahoo's version in a minute) out this week about DVD Jon and his recent patch for Google's Video Viewer. I have a number of problems with the whole handling of this.

Before I get into any of my problems, I'll briefly sum up what happened. Google took an Open Source video viewing application and modified it to allow for better functionality and restricting it to only work on videos from their servers. Since the program was written using open code, under the licensing, Google had to release their application along with the code which they did. Jon's patch removed the limitation Google placed in the code, which allows the program to play videos hosted on any server. Per licensing, he released the source code for the patch as well.

Now, onto my problems with this article:

First, is the fact that the tone of the entire article tries to paint what he did as something devious, underhanded, and suspect. I especially like the "Google officials did not immediately return..." line. What he did was not illegal or even wrong. He released code that makes an OPEN SOURCE application more functional. This is what the spirit behind the open source community is all about. Google made the decision to go the open source route and I applaud them for it. I suspect that officials did not comment on the story, because they did not see it as one. The people at Google had to have seen this coming.

Second, the title of the article "Norwegian Hacker Cracks Google Software". According to Wikipedia, Cracking is "the modification of software to remove encoded copy protection" which is generally illegal. Clearly this is not what happened in this case. The title also identifies Jon as a Hacker. The tone of the article seems to imply that they are using the typical, Media-adopted definition of hacker and not the original meaning (see Wikipedia: Hacking). I have no doubt that Jon considers himself a Hacker, but not in the sense that the article intends.

Third, (and this has more to do with Yahoo, than the AP article itself) the article is posted in the "Cybercrime" section of Yahoo News. No crime has been committed here. No lawsuits are being filed (Google would lose any such suit and they know it). Why does this fall under this heading? To drive more attention to the story. This is one of my biggest problems with the media. Why report the news honestly, when with a slight of hand we can get twice as many people to check it out?

I applaud Jon for his work in the Open Source community. He is talented and puts those talents to good use for all of us. His fight for "fair use" rights is also commendable. Keep up the fight, Jon!


  • Tech News World has a story related to this post. DVD Jon Gets Into Google Code. He didn't get into their code...they released their code as open source! This is not news!

    This story does finally get a comment out of the Google people - "This modification of Google's open-source video viewer does not compromise the integrity and security of content available from Google Video in any way". Google's just trying not to get people to panic. I wish they would have come out stronger in support of the open-source (I do applaud them for going Open Source in the first place) movement.

    By Blogger Bill Blankmeyer, at 01 July, 2005 09:09  

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