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Inside the CueCat Hardware 186

HaveBlue writes "Apparently not content to simply go after those writing software for the CueCat, Digital Convergence is now giving the evil eye to hardware hackers. I just got a letter via FedEx this morning almost exactly like the one sent to Michael Rothwell and other developers. DC just doesn't seem to understand that they can't control hardware that's given away for free..." The second link is an extremely detailed discussion of the internals of the CueCat. Mirror it while you can.
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Inside the CueCat Hardware

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  • Incase you don't believe me, the post is here [slashdot.org]. Yes, I really did take one apart... and yes I really *am* pissed they didn't send me a letter. I've taunted the RIAA, the MPAA, I've denounced the christian coalition, NOW (national organization of women), and I have yet to receive a single letter of reprisal. I'm really depressed. Even when I *try* to get in trouble I can't. I'm a miserable failure. *sniff*


  • where did that extrodinarily numbnuts quote in your sig come from

    It is pretty old... way back when the RIO and mpMan came out... C|Net had a review on them. And that was the quote... "no matter how hard we shook them, they didn't skip." So I emailed him asking if he ACTUALLY shook it or if he just said that to prove a point. He told me that he had to shake it to make sure it wouldn't skip. I couldn't stop laughing.

  • Moss-Magnuson act allows aftermarket companies to make parts. Actually, what it does is say that your warranty on your GM/Ford/et al. is not void by using aftermarket parts.

    Now if only I could get an aftermarket (read: CHEAP) oil filter for an '81 Honda Gold Wing...
  • The freemasons figured out the solution to
    the scientology lawyer problem a long time
    ago. When there secret stuff leaks out, they
    have an ages old policy.

    "Never Explain. Never Complain."

  • Which violation are you referring to? My misspelling of contend as 'content', not capitalizing 'a' at the beginning of a sentence, or "similar tasks as those" versus "similar tasks to those"?

    If he doesn't answer my email because of a grammatical error, that's fine with me. By sending the email I have one more piece of legal defense if they should try to stop me.

    Kevin Fox
  • I can't seem to find anything that relates to hooking up a CueCat to a non-ps2 hookup. It seems given the simplicity of the interface one could make a doohickey (technical term) that would allow me to use my CueCat on a nonlegacy system (no PS2) (Okay, it's a PowerBook, but hey, I like to be cutting edge).
  • By the way, that's "symbolized bar code, quick I.D."...

  • In Code39, or Bar128 : FUCUECAT.

  • This just in! God claims that life was just 'on loan' to citizens of the universe. A "Home Life Kit" is now available to use the advanced features of life. They "will not have several billion years of work destroyed by hackers, nerds, and whizz kids like each of you!"

  • I still keep hoping to get a free one in the mail. I commute every day with a Postal Inspector, and I'd LOVE to sic him on DC
  • Hey Sig,

    No matter how funny you and enoch_root thought this post was, it really falls flat at the end despite the profanity and poor use of the word 'sods'. So please ask enoch_root to kindly stop modding you as Score:5 Funny.
  • Wow, you're still alive...

    Fancy meeting you here. :)

  • Is DC still releasing these, or have they introduced all that they're going to? I could actually go down to Radio Shack, but I felt I should give some /.'ers a chance to earn some karma! :)
  • All of the UPC barcodes have to be unique, don't they? It would sort of defeat their function if a package of chewing gum and a gallon of barn paint had the same barcode. My question is, how are they registered/assigned/whatever? With regard to the earlier discussion about DC going after that bloke for setting up a database of UPC barcodes and so on, I'm wondering how/where the "legitimate users" of the bar codes get their information? Does one of the stock boys at the grocery store have to scan and then register each new brand of peanut butter when it arrives at the store? Surely there is a central database and registration for this stuff....
  • Grrrr, that is obnoxious. It's a little more sensical to be overly sensitive when protecting easily lost trademarks, but it is outrageous that they would come after you specifically. I think what we need is distributed protesting. You may not live anywhere near Trek, and I may not live anywhere near ::/Digital\::/Convergence\::, but maybe someone else does. Think how embarrassing it would be to invite the local media to a demonstration outside DC's headquarters. Maybe you could feature someone writing the decoder from memory, and make them look like an idiot on the evening news. And of course it goes without saying that any physical addresses found in spam would be submitted for immediate firebombing. Del
  • I just got a letter via FedEx this morning almost exactly like the one sent to Michael Rothwell...

    Let's see a copy of that letter, eh? The only links in that post were to other, "similar" letters. If they really are sending letters to people for dinking around with their own hardware, that's a new level of ridiculous. But I'd like to see confirmation of that before I fly off the handle.

  • I thought the whole thing was pretty damn funny.
    And besides, who are you to judge what obviously 3 (at min, 5-3=2(sig's default post)) other people deemed worthy and funny.
    You must be God!
    Please dont smite me oh Lord! I was wrong to question your powerful judgement.
    Maybe you should realize that other people have different senses of humor, and you are not the judge. So, if you are going to request him to not get modded, I'll request for you never to post on slashdot again. In fact, please, never use a computer again. Better yet, the only form of communication you can do is smoke signals. Not even talking.
    I think that's reasonable?
  • Well, nothing is stopping D:C from sending these letters out, some people just need to get a backbone.

    I wish I could.. but they never sent me one, so I can't complain yet. :/


  • These IP lawyers at Kenyon & Kenyon, with offices worldwide, are probably pretty smart dudes. They probably have some idea that it could be postulated that they are threatening people without any good reason.

    Can't they be sued for harassment, or wrongful prosecution if they ever did take action on this? What prevents a lawyer from being a hired gun to harass people? - it seems these days that your average slashdot user is running into more and more of these guys/gals.
  • by British ( 51765 ) <british1500@gmail.com> on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:26AM (#743774) Homepage Journal
    Can someone make a CueCat icon? I think it deserves its own topic heading now. That way, people can filter it out on their Slashdot prefs, and everyone's happy.
  • geez, I saw this story the moment it was posted, and his site is already slashdotted. I'm trying to mirror it [flyinbuttmonkeys.com], without success as of yet. Perhaps someone could email me a big, fat tarball of it?

  • anyone remember that suck article from back then claiming geeks don't live in the real world and are forever destined to be defeated by lawyers? When the hell do we get a slashback that tells us the legal situation of everyone involved? (as in, actual legal findings in court, not hemos/tacos expert legal advice)
    Lord Omlette
    ICQ# 77863057
  • Tnx fur yur encuraging post ubour proper spellin. Since i read it, i have sseen the poorness of ma ways. i know carri a dickonary with me whereever i go. now i finally won my skool spellin bee, which i wuz disqualified fur 10 times in a roww. thanx so much for helpin. i lerned that "cue" and "que" are called homonyms and that even doe they suond the same, they are aktully different. I now post on slashdot without gettin shit from assholes who tink they better than me cuz i cunt spell.
  • Version 1 in FORTRAN wasn't quite working out.......

  • I know that this is slightly off topic, but has anybody else seen the infomercial on the CueCat? It was on the sci-fi channel late at night.
    Basically DC in it is showing that a regular user can not go anywhere on the web without one. They try to indicate that a regular user can not get any information on the web because there is too much of it for them to handle. They make it sound like a revolution of technology.
    My favorite is when they say on it that they will include for no extra charge the connection to the TV.
  • I think they are still required to keep 1 package of 10K ohm resisters...'just in case'...
  • by wajlee ( 84051 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @03:50PM (#743782) Homepage
    "DC just doesn't seem to understand that they can't control hardware that's given away for free..."

    Apparently they do understand.

    Today, I got this response from Charles Richardson of DC.

    Dear Wallace,

    The Cat is yours to do with as you please. I would suggest that you give it
    to a friend if you do not want this for yourself. I'm sorry but we have no
    way for you to conveniently return this to us.

    At 06:00 PM 9/28/00, you wrote:
    >Submitted: 09/28/00 at 06:00 pm:
    >Name: Wallace Lee
    >Regarding: tech
    >Email: koala@koalaweb.net
    >Heard from: magazine
    >Which one:
    >Comments: Hello,
    >I recently received a ":Cue:Cat" device with a magazine subscription.
    >I do not agree with your EULA, and I would like to return it to your
    >company. Please provide me with shipping instructions, and a prepaid
    >shipping container or label. If you can supply me with such an item,
    >please e-mail me koala@koalaweb.net. Otherwise, I will destroy the
    >:Cue:Cat device or play around with it as I am considering it an
    >unsolicited gift.
    >Thank you,
    >Browser & Operating System: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.5; Windows 98)
    >Remote Host: adsl-63-198-207-97.dsl.snfc21.pacbell.net (
    >eMphormed(tm) email system v2.0.3 by eMphasys technologies, inc.
    > Copyright 1998-2000, All Rights Reserved. For authorized use only.
    > http://www.emphasys.net
  • Somehow I think "on loan" as listed in the new EULA and PICK UP YOUR FREE as listed in Radio Shack advertisements needs clarified. If it is free, I'll treat it as such regardless of any EULA. Also nobody has tried to read and post the contents of the microprocessor. All postings I have seen are regarding external use of the signal output from the device. Nothing internal has been copied. I could see a copywright issue if someone copied the code from the cat and used the core barcode driver and wrapped it into a new driver sans the hashing of the output. The main auto symbology detecting software in the cat is very nice and would be good code to use in another reader. But that project would be in violation of the firmware authors copywright.

    In 20/20 hindsite, I think they should have built the thing only supporting their slanted code. Then it would only have been useful only for it's intended purpose. Then only those who want to get into the user tracking game are free to participate and the rest of us that would really like to index the cd's etc. would get a real scanner. Only book and CD sellers paying DC would then print a slanted bar code on their products. Nobody would have an interest in hijacking it.

  • "QueCat will be the biggest thing since the mouse." (actual quote)

    -CueCat CEO guy.

    Mouse - Device that let users manipulate their computer using a graphic user interface, thus omitting the need to type confusing text commands, making the computer a publicly viable resource, changing the world as we know it.

    CueCat - Cheap, plastic barcode scanner giving away at now charge, which let's users manipulate their web browser by ommiting the need to type confusing commercial web addresses such as "ford.com" or "disney.com" or the very confusing "go.com" by scanning a barcode on a magizine. Making the computer a viable technological embarressment, changing the world as we know it, and also increasing the number of stolen magazines from doctor's offices.


    Obviously, the CueCat will dominate, being built into the mouse itself. Paraciticly it will slowly take over the mouse and there will be no mouse, instead the user will have to navagate their computer using barcodes from magazines and user manuals.

    Say "hello" to CueCat - the future.

  • Be careful, you guys hardware hackers out there. DC just raised $100M recently, so they have deep pocket to sue you to your last shorts...

  • wouldn't forcing them to stop telling us to "stop it" be violating *thier* right to free speech? "I disagree with what you say, but I will fight with my life for your right to say it"
  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @04:19PM (#743787) Homepage
    The Cat is yours to do with as you please. I would suggest that you give it to a friend if you do not want this for yourself. I'm sorry but we have no way for you to conveniently return this to us.

    Hmm. You might ask him about the obvious conflict between his statements and the EULA posted on their web site.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 29, 2000 @01:30PM (#743788)
    Shoot, all you'd have to do is get bar codes from panty hose, barb wire, "C" batteries and tabasco sauce, glue them to the edge of a dinner plate, put the plate on a turn-table and set the CueCat up next to it so it can read the labels as they go by. I can see it now: "Damn, those 27-35 year old engineers are sure buying a lot of panty-hose, barb wire, batteries and hot sauce! Get those advertisers on the phone!"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    jeez. come on. this is getting scary
  • I cannot figure out what I would do with one of these things. The only thing it seems like it would be of any use for, at least at the moment, is driving my browser over to some internet site coated in SPAM. No thanks, I'll just type the address in myself for now.
  • Yes, actually, that's *exactly* what happens.

    Now, with larger chain stores, I bet they now have somewhat centralized databases... however.

    Having seen a spanky new IBM POS (point of sale, not that other term) installed in our family owned supermarket.... I know that some employees spent several weeks of large overtime scanning & entering in prices for every single product we carried.

    This really is quite easy once the initial push is done.. adding a new item to the store takes only a minute. Of course, adding the first 500 thousand takes considerably longer.
  • Well, nothing is stopping D:C from sending these letters out, some people just need to get a backbone.
  • I found the information in the Martindale-Hubbell Lawyer Locator [martindale.com] for James E. Rosini, the lawyer signing (more or less) the cease and desist letters to folks, interesting. (Search on James Rosini in New York, New York. There's only one. I'd post the URL for the result, but it's hideously long.)

    The guy's been around the block. Several times. He knows what's what in intellectual property law. In particular, he should know better than to send cease and desist letters without being specific about just what the infringement is. Doing that pretty much defeats one of the two purposes of sending such a letter: showing the court that you gave the defendant a chance to mend his ways before suing him. That makes winning a case in court quite a bit more difficult.

    Rosini, presumably, knows this. That means that he's hiding something: either he's got some new and novel legal theory that he's just waiting to spring on some poor slob who'll be the defendant in a case lawyers will cite for the next 50 years, or else he has no case and is just rattling sabers.

    I've set up a mirror of HaveBlue's page at http://www.i-foo.com/cuecat [i-foo.com]. I await my very own FedEx delivery with bated breath.

  • Silly buggers. If they hadn't posted cease-and-desists, then this story probably wouldn't have made it to /., and I wouldn't have just spent five minutes archiving safely away all the CueCat hacking pages and code archives.

    Didn't anyone learn ANYTHING from DeCSS?
  • > They will be more profitable than most dot.com's

    My kid's paper route is more profitable than most dot-coms.
  • See sig for location. And please, help yourself....
  • Glad to see that you have deep pockets for court cases. No matter how silly a case is, unless you pay for competent lawyers you are screwed. Also once you start to put in motion actions that would allow you to counter-sue for legal fee's, it becomes a double-edged sword because then they can take their multi-million dollar lawyers and include that in their suit (where they couldn't before)

    You must be fairly young to believe that you can take on a company in a legal battle, without VERY competent representation. Even if you win, you are going to end up paying out lots of cash out of your very pocket. A company with millions of dollars can tie up a legal case for months... years... and you still have to pay your lawyer during that time.

    Marketing opportunity for lawyers:

    Set up a lawyer firm specialized in fighting frivolous lawsuits for people who can't pay. People go to the office and explain what kind of harassment they're being subject to, the lawyers examine the case and, if it holds the possibility of a profitable countersuit, they pick the case without the harassed person having to pay legal fees.

    The firm's profits come from the countersuits and legal fees the other side has to pay if they win. Careful risk analysis has to be made, but I'm talking about a VERY professional enterprise. It should be possible.

    Of course, IANAL and IHNBS (I Have Never been Sued), so if someone in the know spots some flaw in my reasoning, please point it out.

  • your alergic to white plastic ehh? are you also alergic to the little bit of solder that runs from the board to the little chip with the serialnumber?
  • Now I'll be able to turn off that useless red light thing....

  • by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:27AM (#743800) Journal
    I agree completely. Of all the letters I've seen from DC, they more or less say "stop doing this, or we'll stop being nice to you". I say wait til they take legal action and then humiliate them in court. DC hasn't said anything remotely intelligent in any of their letters. They're all very vague, and like to throw around the term "itellectual property" a lot. Until DC starts making specific demands and can back up their claims, let's just laugh at them!

    "You'll die up there son, just like I did!" - Abe Simpson
  • ...I unscrewed my CueCat a while ago just to see what was in it: One Circuit board with a connector for the "tail". There was also a plastic piece that apparently served no purpose other than to help hold the light steady. Then when I snapped it back together, the little lense that focuses the light onto the sensor came out. So, it's basicly 3 pieces inside -- PC board, plastic retainer, and lens. The sensor is held to the PC board with a strip of copper tape. I did not remove the sensor or the copper tape, because I wanted it to remain intact.

    As far as hacking stuff off the PC board goes, it's way beyond me, since there are a lot of tiny surface mount components, and I haven't dabbled with a soldering iron in years.

    The lens assembly was intriguing. It got me thinking that perhaps you could turn this thing into a scanner that could scan more than barcodes. Maybe it could even scan text. Maybe somebody else can provide some insight as to whether or not retrofitting a bar code scanner to scan in 2-dimensions is practical or not.

  • Crapitty crap crap. Here's a link that works [flyingbuttmonkeys.com]

  • So when are we going to see the DC logo with a dunce cap as a slashdot topic image? I am really looking forward to the next story. Maybe DC will get a clue and sue the lawyers they hired that are sending these wonderful letters and spending all there money. Ah... only in America.
  • by Accipiter ( 8228 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:29AM (#743804)
    The "On Loan" clause is a bunch of shit.


    First, they changed the EULA when this stuff started happening. People were getting CueCats, and tinkering with them, and posting their findings. DC went apeshit, and modified their EULA to say "Well, we really didn't give it to you. It's on LOAN to you, and we can take it back whenever we please."

    That doesn't work either. I dare them to try to "recall" my scanner. I have a legitimate receipt of purchase from Radio Shack that clearly lists the CueCat Scanner, as well as a barcoded catalog. Everyone should have gotten one of these receipts. The purchase price is $0.00, but so what? It's still a legal purchase, and I have my receipt to prove it. So if DC claims that these scanners are on LOAN, that would mean that Radio Shack is dealing in stolen merchandise.

    Sounds like DC should be butting heads with Radio Shack's lawyers, and not the end users.

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • I can see it now:

    "New York, Sept. 28, 2000

    Digital Convergence, a firm specializing in the manufacture and distribution of 'barcode' scanners called the "Cue Cat", has sent out cease and decist letters to the manufacturers of convinience and grocery store equipment. A 'barcode' is a series of parallel lines of various thickness that Digital Convergence has developed for the use of uniquely identifying an item.

    "We have spent five years coming up with the idea of letting people identify an item by a 'bar code' printed on it", said the company's Vice President of Technology, "And now, these costly years of research are in danger of being wasted because of all these companies trying to profit from our great idea"

    The official further noted that by allowing the scanning of these 'barcodes' by third party hardware, the manufacturers of these machines are effectively undermining Digital Convergence's revenue stream, and "stealing away [our] market share".

    No comment could be obtained from the companies that received the Cease and Desist letters, and no request for an interview was answered by press time."

  • Yeah, sure lawyers can break the law. But to think that just because a firm proceeds to provide the best legal protection doesn't necessarily mean that they're "breaking the law".

    To unduly harrass someone is to subject the attorney to a Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 11 sanction. If a judge decides that there is an abuse worthy of Rule 11, there are significant reprocussions to the attorney's career. It is more likely that K&K is working within the confines of what the Federal Rules permit.
    See Rule 11. [cornell.edu]

    To prevent firms, or more accurately, clients of those firms from taking legal action against possible patent/copyright infringers or trade secret misappropriators for cases like this is to impose a draconian overbroad prohibition likely to impede the protection of those with "real" intellectual property.

    Com'on it's life. It's not perfect and it's sometimes abuses, but it works and may be the best way.


  • I don't have to take apart a cat to see what it does on the inside. It can read a UPC and an ISBN and tell the difference..(the list of decoded barcodes is extensive) I have seen simple readers and simple software drivers for undecoded wands (Photodiode video out fed to DTR on RS-232) that can only read UPC or only read 3 of 9. I don't care what the code is. It works. I suspect they bought the code from sombody like Symbol and added their output hash. They could have saved themselves some IP issues if the Cat only scanned Cues and no other barcodes. People would not be tempted to use it on CD's, Books etc if it couldn't read those codes.
  • (From the who-would-have-guessed-my-site's-name-would-mean-a nything-to-people-other-than-my-friends dept.)

    Well, I've had this site lying around for a few months doing nothing so it's about time it was put to good use. The mirror is on dirtywhitekitty.com/dirtycat/ [dirtywhitekitty.com]. This is the hardware site that was originally located here. [matrixpm.com]


  • 1) Wouldn't get them far in business if theyt did not conform to the standards.
    2) Aren't barcodes somewhat patented, and licensed to a degree? Not in an exploitive manner, but I believe the patent holders use this to make sure the system doesn't fail?
  • howdy is any one able to send me a unwanted cuecat to me in australia? ild be able to return the favour in some way im sure. If any one is able to do this please email me at either

    grunef@liquidchicken.org or

    thanks a heap
  • (I guess somebody should submit these cuecat-documents to the Swedish parlament :-)

    Thanks for reminding me of that. Maybe I can take advantage of the large donations I give my congressbeing to get the CueCat info put in the Congressional Record. May as well add DeCSS while I'm about it ... :-)

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:31AM (#743825) Homepage Journal
    Just what the heck did those bozos at Digital Convergience think they were walking into? I mean, heck, if someone picks of these at a flea market five years from now, do they still have to worry about it being improperly used? Geez, why didn't they just include a little tag, like the mattress people use:

    Failure to use this device
    in the manner for which it was
    originally intended will result
    in us suing your pants off! So don't
    even think about it! Bad! We really
    mean it! Don't be naughty! Just
    say No!

    Also, removal of this tag will
    result in a very stern letter to
    your parents, dead or alive.

    Where's a bowl of hot grits when you want to use something for other than it's intended purpose...

    Chief Frog Inspector
  • You know, it's not actually required that you post. I mean, if you have absolutely nothing to add to the discussion, you might as well not say anything. According to talk show host Jim Rome [jimrome.com],

    Have a take, don't suck, or don't talk to me.

    Just a friendly tip!

  • I posted this earlier and it got eaten. Anyway, here are *TWO* ideas for screwing Digital Convergence:

    Idea #1: Digital Convergence just announced an IPO. [yahoo.com] We can do our part on internet investment discussion boards to make sure that their potential investors are well-informed about this company... every day until the IPO!

    • DC gives away hardware and expects revenue from use of its software. However, since its software stinks and is easily replaced, the business model is hosed.
    • A recent letter [slashdot.org] from the president of the technology group at DC shows a total lack of understanding of IP law-- upon which the health of the company critically depends. (Or would depend, were the law favorable to their cause.)
    • Apparently realizing the enormity of their error, DC has been sending vague, threatening letters [flyingbuttmonkeys.com] to people who have found uses for CueCat that undermine their business model. Unfortunately, these letters appear to be bluffs.
    • These threatening letters have incensed the open source community-- a group well-qualified to undermine DC's business model by providing alternate software to drive the CueCat, shutting of DC's revenue.
    • The product raises privacy concerns, particularly in light of the recent hack into Digital Convergence's customer database [digitalconvergence.com].
    • A key asset that Digital Convergence hopes to develop is a database of demographic data [digitaldemographics.com] through the barcode scans. However, the true value of this supposed asset is essentially zero, because it can be (and likely will be) easily and irreparably corrupted. (See Idea #2.)
    • Just as the company's fundamental business model has come into serious question, they file for an IPO. Could this be a hasty attempt by execs to grab some cash before this leaky ship sinks beneath the waves?

    Be sure to relay only FACTS on internet discussion boards-- that will suffice. Of course, wouldn't it be a shame if frank and extensive discussion of these facts cut a few percent off their $100 million IPO?

    Idea #2: Since Digital Convergence plans to build a database of demographic data [digitaldemographics.com], how about a little program that pulls random items out of the UBC database, encodes them, and ships them off to the DC servers every couple minutes? This would irreparably corrupt their database, making it worthless-- weeding out fake scans would be essentially impossible. If you're worried about legality, print out 10 pages of barcodes for obscure items you'd never own or desire and scan them again and again whenever you have an idly thinking about something else. That way, you're using their product exactly as intended, yet still corrupting their database. What can they do?

  • Many lawyers in the UK so this. It's called 'no win no fee'. They examine your case, and if (as in this case it seems) the other party hasn't got a leg to stand on they go for maximum damages from the other party (including harassment, stress, anything else they can dream up) to pay their fees.

    The disadvantage of this is that you rarely if ever get anything (except smug satisfaction) at the end, since it all goes on the remaining legal fees after you've won.

  • The word "attorney" means representative. When an attorney takes action, it is on behalf of their clients. In the eyes of the law, the attorneys aren't really there, only the people who hired the lawyers. Attorneys obviously can't do anything illegal, but there is nothing illegal in writing a letter.
  • Does anyone else think that if Digital Submergence would ignore all this activity, there'd be a lot less interest in it? Just the fact that they're blanketing the hacker community with their "cease and desist"s is getting my back up enough to put up a mirror site myself. Their struggles are just attracting more sharks, in my estimation. Anyway, when the CueCat becomes the obvious failure that is its destiny, DC isn't going to have any money left to pay a law firm to harrass a bunch of hobbyists, so this is a short-term problem for the tinkerers, in my opinion.
  • (The interesting-link site is slashdotted already...)

    IANAL, so I would appreciate it if anyone with substantial relevant expertise could tell us:

    1. Are these actions of Digital Convergence perhaps in violation of the First Amendment?
    2. If so, is there a possibility of certifying a suit against Digital Convergence as a class action?
    3. Are there any statutory damages we could expect, or just a "cease and desist"? I know it would be nice to just take a company with a stupid legal-driven business plan and get them to shut up, but driving them out of business for trying to mess with people's free speech rights would be much harder for the rest of the business community to ignore.
    Just my ruminations...
    Build a man a fire, and he's warm for a day.
  • by skroz ( 7870 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:35AM (#743848) Homepage
    To whom it may concern,
    Our clients, the slashdot communicty, have recently made it clear to us that your firm has been partcipating in an unjustified harassment campaign against developers of open source CueCat software on behalf of your client, Digital Convergance. Despite repeated requests for clarification from the recipients of your requests, your firm has seen fit to persist with its harassment of developers working on legitimate hardware and software development.
    This letter is being provided to inform you that persuant to section 53, paragraph 12 of the State of Ohio Revised code, you are hereby ordered to cease and desist all actions against the forementioned developers until such time as a complete list of specific grievances can be included with your request. Failure to comply will result in the filing of a civil lawsuit against your firm, digital convergance, and its partners.

    Thank you,
    Scott F. Crosby

    Will that do?
  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:44AM (#743849) Homepage
    ... but if you read the license agreement...

    As has been explained multiple times before...

    In a contractual transaction, the receiving party has to be given an opportunity to read and understand and agree to a contract (which is what a license agreement is) in order for it to be binding. I've gotten two of these little scanners so far, and neither has come with any kind of license agreement that I could see. There might have been something on the CDs, but I didn't need them, so I pitched them. There certainly wasn't anything on the package telling me that the hardware was being given to me under terms of any kind of contract or license.

    Therefore, it appears that there is no contract is in force between Digital Convergence and myself. Any hardware that was given to me freely, with no conditions stated, is mine to do with AS I WILL, provided I don't violate anybody's copyrights or patents. (Copyrights and patents are binding on me no matter if I've signed a contract or not. There is no doubt a copyright on any microcode contained in the processor of the bar code reader, but I'm not attempting to do anything with that code, so I'm OK there. There have been no indications of patent violations, so I'll continue to do as I please until notified that I'm violating a patent. Note that this is different from a trade secret, which requires a contract between the secret owner and other parties. Without a signed contract, I'm under no obligation to keep private any trade secrets that may belong to Digital Convergence.)

    I also understand that there might be something on a web site somewhere that talks about restricting what I can do with something that was given to me freely. Since I have not had the opportunity or desire or obligation to go to the web site, any words there are hearsay as far as I'm concerned, which also means they have no legal affect on me. It's also hard to see how terms could be imposed ex post facto, and I believe a court would agree.

    So. License? What license?

    obDisclaimer: I am not a lawyer.


  • by jms ( 11418 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:44AM (#743851)
    I remember a story from a few years ago, possibly apocryphal. There was a bungee tower operator, and he went to the top of his tower to make a test jump. Apparently he first checked to make sure that the cord was securely fastened to the top of the tower, and did a back-dive off the tower.

    Unfortunately, he had neglected to attach the other end of the bungee cord to his legs.

    He apparently started screaming about halfway down ... presumably the point that he realized his error.

    Evolution in action.

    Here we have the corporate equivalent. In order for DC's business model to work, they needed to ensure that no one else could write software to use their hardware. Their entire business model is based on funnelling all cuecat scans through their web site. If you can use a cuecat without going through their web site, then their business model is destroyed.

    Unfortunately, they failed to do that. They used a primitive algorithm, and they made the slightly scrambled string print out in a DOS window, making it extra simple to figure out. They have NO patents that cover use of the hardware, and all of their copyrights only apply to their software, which you don't need to install to use the cuecat. Their "trade secret" was easily reverse-engineered, which is completely legal.

    The reason that their vague lawyer-letters don't actually specify any specific intellectual property violation, and the reason why people are receiving vague letters instead of cease and desist letters is quite simple.

    They forgot to attach the bungee cord to their legs.

    Those letters are the screaming.

    Evolution in action.
  • by small_dick ( 127697 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @07:06PM (#743858)
    It seems to me the author has been threatened that he will be sued for IP violations, and that penalties will accrue the longer he leaves the material up.

    He then asked for clarification; that is, what exactly is illegal on the site and what laws were being violated.

    K & K did not provide the information.

    Therefore, it seems to me that any accrual of financial penalties has now become their burden, for failing to provide the information necessary for the flyingbuttmonkey to determine how best to serve their viewing public.

    Anyway, IANAL. Everyone compares computer hardware to cars, and the "welded hood" analogy. It seems to fall apart when you get into these "give away the razor, and make you're money selling blades".

    Have any aftermarket car companies been sued for making GM/FORD/HONDA/TOYO replacement parts? Shocks, Tires, Wheels, pistons, etc? What laws let someone take their car apart and posting dimensions of the piston, for example?

    Also, Steve Ciarcia (former Byte Magazine/Circuit Cellar guru) ran a lengthy series on the design and programming of barcode readers.

    Sheesh, only a small percentage of people getting this thing are going to hack it, anyway. All Digital Divergence is doing is screwing their image with the computing elite. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.
  • by irksome ( 106742 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @02:21PM (#743859)
    (copied directly from the US Postal service publication 201, Consumer's Guide to Postal Services & Products, available from the USPS at http://www.usps.com [usps.com])

    Unsolicited Merchandise
    Federal law prohibits the shipment of
    unordered merchandise. Such a practice
    may constitute an unfair trade practice.
    Merchandise mailed in violation of United
    States Code may be treated as a gift by the
    recipient without any obligation to the
    The laws governing this practice are
    enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
    If you believe that you have received unor-dered
    merchandise in violation of federal
    law, contact the Commission's Bureau of
    Consumer Protection at:
    WASHINGTON DC 20580-0001

    (emphasis added was mine. Digital Convergence has no case)
  • by troyboy ( 9890 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @02:21PM (#743860)
    Someone could sue DC to get a declaratory judgment that it is okay to reverse engineer and write software for the CueCat. The complaint would look something like this:

    1. The CueCat is a bar code reader (explain it).
    2. I would like to reverse engineer the CueCat and write software to intercept the data (explain how).
    3. DC is sending out vague cease and desist letters (attach an example).
    4. On information and belief, DC has no patent on the CueCat.

    Then move for summary judgment asking the judge to rule that there are no patent or copyright rights in the CueCat and that you can reverse engineer it. The plaintiff wins (without having exposed himself to risk). Now, everyone can point DC to a legal decision.
  • And what exactly does the license agreement have to do with anything? There is no evidence that any of the people getting the letters have installed or are using the software. Hence, the license agreement has no relevance whatsoever. Many of the cuecats were sent out as gifts via the post office. Attempting to attach a license onto these gifts is actually a violation of federal law. In my case, I went to RatShack and asked for one. I was never asked to sign anything, nor asked for my name. The clerk simply handed it to me.

    At what point do you think any of us entered into a contract with Digital Convergence? That's what a license agreement is: a contract. Did people enter into a contract simply by removing the package from their mailbox? Did they enter into a contract by opening the package? Did I enter into a contract by asking the RatShack clerk for a free scanner? Did I enter into a contract when he handed me the bag? I was never asked for my name, and certainly never signed anything. None of us have installed or used the software. Why bother? If the license agreement said everybody born in odd years owes Digital Convergence a dollar, would that mean I owe them a dollar? Of course not.

    So why exactly are any of us bound by the license agreement on the software? Did I enter into a contract when you read the license agreement? The simple fact of the matter is these lawyers are sending out scary-sounding but completely worthless letters. I don't think they even qualify as a cease and desist letter. There is no IP infringement going on. The lawyers know that. They are just hoping that they can scare everyone with their worthless threats.
  • by andyh1978 ( 173377 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:36AM (#743868) Homepage
    These popped up with a trip to Google [google.com]:

    Student's electrial engineering project [washington.edu], includes schematic (scanner + RS232 interface)

    And another. [umn.edu]

    Can't be too hard to do anyway; just need an IR LED, IR phototransistor positioned to pick up the reflections, clean the signal up into digital and stuff it into a computer for processing.

    Or the software way, if you've got a decent enough quality webcam, write some image recognition stuff to read the barcode off frame grabs.
  • by RalphSlate ( 128202 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:47AM (#743871) Homepage
    I think that DC may have hit on something here.

    1. Put out a lame device that's easy to take apart.

    2. Record all such instances of "violations of IP".

    3. Allow the "damages" to accrue.

    4. Sue the IP violators for millions.

    5. Patent the process and license it to other companies.

    They will be more profitable than most dot.com's

  • Absolutely.. only I think they need an icon a la The Microsoft [slashdot.org]
    Bill Gates of Borg one.. Only instead it's a mouse with a red laser/LED eye
  • by stienman ( 51024 ) <.adavis. .at. .ubasics.com.> on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:49AM (#743876) Homepage Journal
    It's not trivial, but there is enough information out there that a suitably proficient hobbyist could do it. I would if I had time.

    If anyone REALLY wants this done, perhaps you can motivate me. Email me and ask me to do it. Send me money, a used laptop, or some other motivator. :-)

    My website [ubasics.com] (electronics, PIC uControllers, etc)
  • by InsaneGeek ( 175763 ) <slashdot AT insanegeeks DOT com> on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:49AM (#743877) Homepage
    Glad to see that you have deep pockets for court cases. No matter how silly a case is, unless you pay for competent lawyers you are screwed. Also once you start to put in motion actions that would allow you to counter-sue for legal fee's, it becomes a double-edged sword because then they can take their multi-million dollar lawyers and include that in their suit (where they couldn't before)

    You must be fairly young to believe that you can take on a company in a legal battle, without VERY competent representation. Even if you win, you are going to end up paying out lots of cash out of your very pocket. A company with millions of dollars can tie up a legal case for months... years... and you still have to pay your lawyer during that time.

    Things like this should NEVER be taken lightly, it may be the stupidest thing in the world; but if it gets to court 5-10k for a fees, lost work, etc. is nothing to them but that can break a lot of people I know. The best thing to do is to contact your well paid lawyer, under their guidance they will tell you to respond or not to. If they tell you a response it necessary, they draw up everything and you just put your signature on it. More than likely they will tell you to do nothing, and laughing at them, is the quickest way to get yourself into a lawsuit.

    Spelling & grammar checker off because I don't care
  • by mwalker ( 66677 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:17AM (#743878) Homepage
    can any hardware engineers out there write up a quick and dirty on how to build your own bar-code scanner? then you could base any of your software engineering on hardware you'd created yourself.

    let's see em sue you for that.

    p.s. since it's legal to send a cease and desist letter for anything, can we get a slash lawyer to write a cease-and-desist letter to DC that asks them to cease and desist being assholes? Then all of us can mail them a copy...
  • p.s. since it's legal to send a cease and desist letter for anything, can we get a slash lawyer to write a cease-and-desist letter to DC that asks them to cease and desist being assholes? Then all of us can mail them a copy...
    Actually, isn't harrassment by baseless legal threats barratry? And isn't that enough to get lawyers disciplined by the bar? Perhaps the Texas bar would be interested to hear about these letters...
  • Just because you have a business plan doesn't mean you're entitled to make money off of said business plan, particularly if it's a stupid business plan.
  • by photozz ( 168291 ) <`photozz' `at' `gmail.com'> on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:19AM (#743886) Homepage
    Several of us at work here decided to write a little VB app that can catalog just about anything using the cue cat. We have not used any of the original code from cuecat, just the un-modified hardware. Are we going to get a rectal examination if we release this as freeware? what have we come to..........

  • ..or are these people doing this just to make a joke of RIAA and MPAA?

    Their case against people is so absurd, it almost seems like the whole CueCat thing came about to get the chance to prove in a court that, in the computer industry, IP means a very different thing than it used to.

    I mean, even the timing of these guys is perfect to poke fun at the mp3 and DeCSS debate.

    #include <stdIANAL.h>

    And with that in mind.. would it be worth it to hurry up and push CueCat into a court so a precedent could be set? It'd be amusing to watch these guys lose. Then, turn around and use that against RIAA or MPAA.
  • What is going to happen if somebody creates a mirror of these sites in a server operating outside the jurorsdiction of a USA court. What are DC supposed to do then? It is not a rocket science this bar code reader. Why making so much noise about this "technology"?! And how they imagine to stop all the web sites that can appear outside USA, if somebody decides to do this? Another question is: What is the harm to their technology if occasionaly I use the their bar code reader .... like a bar code reader?
  • Signal 11 is funny. I like his humor. Unfortunately, what this story is about... is not funny. As such, I'm hoping a moderater will see this here.

    mirror of the hardware site [firehead.org]

    My .sig contains the mirrors of lots of things. Click it.

  • That leaves the problem of how to deal with duplicate bar codes.

    The Uniform Code Council assigns the company codes on the UPC. The first part of the code is unique to the company manufacturing the product. The end of the code is determined by the company. Therefore, there shouldn't be any duplicate bar codes (unless the same company produced both or someone created unauthorized codes).

    Want a UPC code of your own? Check out The Uniform Code Council [uc-council.org]'s instructions.

  • by NoWhere Man ( 68627 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @02:56PM (#743896) Homepage
    Wonder if there is any law against creating a clone of the Cue Cat, the case seems small enough that the hardware wouldn't be too hard to duplicate, possibly using larger components.
  • err, s/mouse/cat/. Long day...
  • by Tau Zero ( 75868 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:52AM (#743901) Journal
    What they got is a bunch of pissed-off freedom advocates, a few hardware hackers and trolls having fun, and a whole lot of people who either have already or are about to:
    1. Go down to Radio Shack,
    2. Pick up a CueCat and lie about their name and address, and
    3. Either never use it with the Windoze client, hack the EEPROM before doing anything with it, or both.
    All of these people are going to give DC no revenue for their outlay. The publicity alone has given DC a huge hit in their current expenses and future revenue, and frankly they're a bunch of morons to have bet their business on such a lousy business plan.

    Let me predict the next cycle of the arms race.

    • DC produces a new version of the scanner which truly encrypts the scan output, and fails to operate if the EEPROM is disconnected or altered.
    • Some embedded hacker (like, maybe, me?) writes some code for a pin-compatible microcontroller to make their new scanner produce the same output (for ISBN, UPC, etc. codes) as the old CueCat... only without the serialization. Said code is distributed for free, or you can buy a pre-programmed microcontroller for a few bucks and an SASE.
    Either way, Digital Convergence can kiss its corporate ass goodbye.
    Build a man a fire, and he's warm for a day.
  • by hald ( 1811 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @12:56PM (#743904)
    Found a reference to Kenyon and Kenyon on slashdot [slashdot.org] in November of 1999. Two different opinions about them then

    Hal Duston

  • "

    I'm Ben Blonkey, inventer of the cue cat. I'm sorry, but talking about the cue cat is now illegal. Everyone who replies will now be scouted out by the cue cat mafia and sent a letter from fed-ex.

    Thank You,
    Cue Cat Inc.
  • Actually, all you have to do is sign up for Pre-Paid Legal Insurance.

    For $25/month, you are protect from civil lawsuits with about 50 hours of free legal respresentation (this is usually enough to settle any case since rarely do cases go beyond that and the coverage increases by 10 hours per year for each year you continue service). They will also handle traffic tickets, IRS audits and write two letters per issue on your behalf in case you want to do a little legal bullying of your own.

    Coverage takes effect immediately and covers your spouse and children (unless they have recently changed that policy). Some professions, like commercial truck driver, need special additional coverage due to the high risk of personal lawsuits that their professions generate.

    All in all, I signed up two years ago and have yet to even use the civil suit protection. Usually a letter from a lawfirm with an impressive letterhead is all it takes to get the matter dropped. Once the other guys think you've called their bluff and actually hired a lawyer, I have found they usually back down.

    If interested, check out the website


    Legal insurance is fast becoming as important, if not more important, than home/car insurance. After all, if you car gets stolen you lose your car. If your home burns down, you lose your home. But if some nut slips on a french fry you dropped, sues you, and actually wins then you'll end up losing your home, car, and your salary for the next few decades to boot. Scary, ain't it?

    - JoeShmoe

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= -=-=-=-=-=-=-
  • by rw2 ( 17419 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:20AM (#743910) Homepage
    Those guys are marketing GENUISES! They've gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars of free publicity out of a few pages of letterhead and some stamps.

    I mean really what are we going to do, switch to one of the other bar code readers? Of course not, but we've all gone out and got a CueCat!

    Whoever put together this plan has got to be sitting in his chair rocking back and forth laughing his butt off at how we fell for it hook, line and sinker! All the while churning out invoices to the CueCat enabled advertisors who signed deals at a rate of .10 per shipped CueCat for the right to use that TMed slanty barcode and logo!

    In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to find out Taco was a principle over at DC!

  • by Pope Slackman ( 13727 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:20AM (#743913) Homepage Journal
    I would never [sausageparty.net] take apart a device [sausageparty.net] I was given...That's bad [sausageparty.net]. What's wrong with you nasty 'hackers'?!

    Ok, I said it. Now where's my $50?
  • -----

    Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 17:02:11 -0700 (PDT)
    From: Kevin Fox
    To: jrosini@kenyon.com
    Subject: Cuecat violations

    Dear Mr. Rosini,

    As the owner of a Cuecat scanner and someone who knows a fair amount about
    intellectual property law, I would like to know Kenyon & Kenyon's position
    regarding what you term infringing use of Cuecat scanners.

    Which intellectual property laws specifically do you content that users
    are infringing upon? are users infringing on trade secrecy, patent,
    trademark, or copyright violations?

    Speaking as someone who is planning on performing similar tasks as those
    you found infringing when enacted by 'flyingbuttmonkeys.com' I would like
    to know cuecat's specific legal position on this matter.

    Thank you for your attention in this matter. I eagerly await your reply.


    Kevin Fox


    If I get a reply, I'll post it here.

    Kevin Fox
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Since RadioShack is giving them away for free. Why not just go pick up one per day from all surrounding stores. You can just give false name and stuff if you want, but this is one easy way to screw up their business model. All their investor will see they gave away 100 thousands of CueCats, but where are all the demographic info from all those alledge users... LOL And since the CueCat comes in a plastic baggie, why not toss out the CD ROM and pamplet that came with it, since the EULA is for the Software, if we don't use the software, we're not breaking any EULA rules. "And what EULA Agreement and pamplet are you talking about, we only received a CueCat thing in a ripped plastic baggies." :)
  • Well, it seems that some people will never learn one of the most basic rules of the net: more you fight, more mirrors will pop up. $cientology was the first organisation to have this experience, I guess their "secrets" documents are the most widely spread religious documents in the net (I guess somebody should submit these cuecat-documents to the Swedish parlament :-)... Anyone who has followed how the community works here should have learned the lesson up till now so it's a bit strange that it still happens.
    Anyway, feel free to visit also my mirror, the address is the same as below...

    My DeCSS archive:
  • Why the hell would they care? All you did was give some free advertisement fo their product. With pictures. That's it.


  • I've taunted the RIAA, the MPAA, I've denounced the christian coalition, NOW (national organization of women), and I have yet to receive a single letter of reprisal.

    Hmmm. Interesting.

    Watch for a page soon that taunts mad pit bulls with RIAA-approved Christian Coalition cease-and-letters to NOW for hacking the CueCat with the help of the MPAA to secretly send information to Digital Convergence about anti-feminist movies from open-source MPEG4-based DVD-ripper programs powered by DeCSS.

    That should stir up a nicely amusing unholy mess, not to mention a very confusing one.

  • We took the CueCat and a sampling of posts to the Intellectual Property Section of the Arizona State Bar, and when we read the "retroactive loan" EULA and Slashdot posts, raucous laughter ensued... they especially enjoyed the post on the toothbrush EULA [slashdot.org].
  • The FedEx tracking number is 445668732675, you may track your letter at http://www.fedex.com/us/tracking/ [fedex.com].

    Digital Convergence

  • by CMiYC ( 6473 ) on Friday September 29, 2000 @11:21AM (#743935) Homepage
    I knew this was coming... I'm beyond glad I printed the page out a few days ago. I was really surprised they hadn't gotten a letter yet.

    I think DC can make an argument that the software violates their IP (whatever that is, and however weak their argument is... i think they can make one). Now... I don't see anythign wrong with the hardware side of it.

    I got my Cue:;'#$.,==+Cat before they changed their EULA, and since RS didn't get my name and address I feel I have no obligation to any changes they make. So, therefore...I can do with this little piece of hardware as I please. It just so happens I'm allergic to white plastic...so to use their wonderful product I removed it from its casing.

    You know...whatever. If they want to waste their money on Legal crap that no one cares about, let them. Are we REALLY worth it? I mean, seriously. How many people have taken theirs apart? Is it worth the cost of all this trouble and bad publicity on their part?


Loose bits sink chips.