April 21, 2005 10:55 AM PDT

Nikon's photo encryption reported broken

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A Massachusetts programmer says he has broken a proprietary encryption code that has effectively forced some Nikon digital camera owners to use the company's own software.

Because Nikon scrambled a portion of the file, legal worries have kept third-party developers like Adobe Systems from supporting Nikon's uncompressed "raw" photos in their software. Nikon sells its Nikon Capture utility for $100.

"It's an open format now," said programmer Dave Coffin, who posted the decryption code on his Web site this week. "I broke that encryption--I reverse-engineered it."

ALT TEXT
Dave Coffin
Code breaker and author of "dcraw"

Coffin gained some fame in digital photography circles as the author of the popular Dcraw utility, which translates raw images from cameras, including ones made by Nikon, Canon and Kodak, into a nonproprietary format. Raw images are prized by serious photographers because, unlike JPEG files, there's no loss in quality.

Nikon's encryption, found in the high-end D2X and D2H cameras, drew attention last weekend thanks to a post on an Adobe forum by Photoshop creator Thomas Knoll. He warned that Adobe could not fully support the Nikon files in its Camera Raw software--by decrypting the encoded white balance information--for fear of violating the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

"Nikon might consider breaking the white balance encryption a violation of DMCA, and sue Adobe," Knoll wrote. "Adobe is a large company with deep pockets...and it is unlikely we would run the legal risk of breaking the white balance encryption unless we can get some assurance from Nikon that they will not sue Adobe for doing so."

Coffin said that the publication of his discovery may let Adobe include support for Nikon's file format in the next version of Camera Raw without violating the DMCA. "Adobe has a very cautious legal team," he said. "In fact, all of their engineers are forbidden from doing any decompilation whatsoever."

Neither Nikon nor Adobe responded to repeated requests for comment.

Nikon's white-balance encryption had hindered photographers who preferred other, sometimes faster or more capable, image conversion software by making it infeasible to convert large numbers of images. Canon--which bundles its raw conversion software with its cameras and does not charge extra--does not encrypt its photo metadata.

With some exceptions, the DMCA broadly restricts software that can "circumvent" access to technological protection schemes.

Peter Jaszi, a professor at American University who teaches copyright law, said that while Adobe might have some good arguments, it's reasonable for the company to be cautious. "I wouldn't, in Adobe's position, be thrilled to draw a lawsuit if I could avoid it," Jaszi said. "Adobe knows all about suing people under the DMCA and how much heartache that can generate."

Adobe famously embraced the controversial copyright law four years ago when seeking the arrest of a Russian programmer who broke the encryption code protecting the company's e-books--and then changed its mind a few days later. A California jury acquitted the programmer's employer, ElcomSoft, in December 2002.

In an e-mail message late Thursday, Bibble Labs founder Eric Hyman said he had also broken the Nikon white balance code and had incorporated it in the latest version of his commercial image-manipulation software. Bibble Labs sells the full-featured version of its "Bibble 4" software for $129, and a less-capable version for $69.

8 comments

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Another Example of Corporate Greed
So we have an open standard called RAW, and Nikon decides to make a proprietary version and force customers to buy their software? More corporate greed.

Yesterday I read about how Motorola is readying the iTunes phone, and Apple wants customers to be able to freely move their music to and from the phones. HOWEVER, Verizon wants customers to only buy music only from Verizon at $3.00 per song!

The RIAA meanwhile, or at least the British version, is busy suing parents of kids who downloaded music through P2P networks, and the RIAA is stating that file-sharing is illegal (not copyright violation mind you, actual sharing of ANY file no matter the format).

So corporate greed continues its march. Motorola and Apple might not be saints, but compared to some of the pickpockets like Verizon and Nikon, they look like good kids.
Posted by (274 comments )
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get your facts straight!!
RAW is a camera-specific format. Canon has their own, so does Nikon, so do other countless camera makers. It is not, nor has ever been an open format, so Nikon is not making anything proprietary.

There is no open standard and this is just a political ploy by Adobe to push their DNG format (so they have to write less converters).
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
Photo Encryption
Encrypt my photos and charge me to decrypt them? What kind of garbage is that. This shouldn't fall under the DMCA. If the photos belong to you then you should be able to do whatever you want with them. It's not like they are copyrighted photos belonging to someone else. I think that's kind of monopolistic on Nikon's part. It would be one thing (not entirely acceptable) if their photo software could come anywhere close to that of Adobe's or anyone elses for that matter but it doesn't, so now you're stuck paying 100 dollars for sub-par software, bah. Buy a Canon. Nikon shooting themselves in the foot if they keep this up.
Posted by jgemberton (6 comments )
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It's About Who Owns the Image!
as one other poster alluded, it's not at all about the software. it's about who owns the encrypted image. and there should be no way that any corporation can take my creative work and encrypt it and then charge me additional money to access it or restrict my ability to access it in any way. it's MY creative work!

mark d.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://members.cox.net/mddoiron" target="_newWindow">http://members.cox.net/mddoiron</a>
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
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Bibble Pro already supports D2H/D2X
It's worth noting that the white balance encryption had already been cracked. D2X/D2H support is available in Bibble Pro 4.2.2 (www.bibblelabs.com), which was released almost a month ago. I don't work for them, I'm just a happy Bibble user.
Posted by (1 comment )
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