Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Nikon RAW Format Rumpus

There's been considerable noise from many quarters over the Adobe vs. Nikon tiff about Nikon encrypting the white balance data in its model D70 RAW files. Adobe yelled that it wouldn't support Nikon's RAW format in Photoshop. Nikon came back with a not-entirely-satisfactory offer to make the SDK available to some developers.

My intent here isn't to recapitulate the debate here--which now appears to be at least somewhat overblown anyway. (For the edification of non-photographers, RAW is a camera (or least sensor)-specific format for the digital data captured by the sensor. Because it hasn't been further manipulated or compressed in a lossy way (a la JPEG), it's the highest quality way to store images on camera that support it.)

I do find one aspect of this mess particularly troublesome, however. And it's not Nikon's lack of openness--which is a boneheaded PR move that I can't see benefiting them. (Nor am I convinced that Adobe's motives in taking this public were necessarily pure.) Rather, it's the fact that Adobe could credibly invoke the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) as the reason it couldn't decrypt Nikon's format.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm far from convinced that the DMCA--and specifically its decryption provisions-- would apply here. After all, it's the metadata for the photographer's own data (picture) that's being decrypted. But, the fact that Adobe's can claim concern about violating the DMCA--and people widely accepted that concern as valid--should be concerning.

We don't really know what a judge or a jury could decide are the limits of the DMCA. Certainly "DMCA" gts thrown around by the anti-IP crowd as a bogeyman on the order of RIAA--but that doesn't mean it's right either.

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