brain-dead DVD+RW "copy protection", or occam's coincidence?

Posted 18 Nov 2003 at 16:27 UTC by lkcl Share This

I have purchased two USB DVD writers - one a Freecom FX50 DVD+-RW and the other an HP DVD300e. Both drives, after initially working, failed to operate after burning a DVD.

A report on CD Freaks is making me suspicious as to what is going on.

Anyone else with similar experiences, or any clues?

I want to do data backup.

I want to burn DVDs to install Debian for my customers.

I do not want to break the law, as one person asked me when I said I had a DVD writer, "can you copy my DVDs for me so I can give people cheap christmas presents? how long would it take?".

I want to be able to move around with my computer equipment, to customer sites, and do Tripwire signature CDs to help guarantee their computers against attack.

All of these things tell me that I should purchase a USB DVD writer, so I did. £250 but I got 10% off because the FX-10 was supposed to be in stock (quantity 1) but it wasn't, and I end up the proud owner of a Freecom FX-50 DVD+/-RW drive.

Then I find, by checking the Linux 2.4.22 kernel, that it is actually an IDE drive in a USB box, with a USB-to-IDE interface. I found out because there is another similar Freecom device (a CD-RW not a DVD writer) and I cut/paste the entry in unusual_devs.h, modified the sub-device number, recompiled usb-storage.o and hey presto, it worked.

I then installed the dvd+rw-tools which include dvd+rw-format and a magic program called growisofs.

When I say worked, what I mean to say is that it recognised a CD, and I managed to format a DVD-RW disk, and even managed to blank it, and even managed to burn an entire DVD _including_ making it bootable (whoo-hoo!).


After the one success, the Freecom FX-50 failed totally. No disks - including CDs - could be written to or even READ.

So, back to the shop (PC World are very good about refunds and exchanges) for a replacement. Which they didn't have.

So I thought, Hm, what else is available? Well, there's an HP DVD 300e which wasn't there last week so I'll check that out (in the store, I booted up, plugged it in and read a CD, and concluded that it worked).

Well, it turns out that I had bought a DVD+RW which CANNOT write DVD-RW disks, so anyone contemplating buying DVD writers WATCH out for that one. For marketing purposes it is unlikely that they will clearly state a negative fact on the box ("we don't do DVD-RW") so look for the positive facts...

So, full of confidence that HP is a reputable company, I take the brand new DVD+RW disk that comes free with the DVD300e and put it in the drive. I issue the command dvd+rw-format -force /dev/cdroms/cdrom0 and it gets to 1% and then stops (the Freecom got to 11%).

[The dvd+rw-format program is really smart. Rather than wasting your time formatting the entire disk it can do partial formats, and then continue formatting as-and-when you need it.]

So I then issued the command growisofs -Z /dev/cdroms/cdrom0 /backup-dir and it failed.

I switched the drive off, on, unplugged it, removed the drivers, plugged it in, rebooted, switched everything off, all to no avail: the disk is totally unusable.

I get some weird error messages from both dvd+rw-format and growisofs about the drive not being ready.

So I then started looking around for people's experiences with the DVD300e. I found a report on CD Freaks under windows, where a French company that does DVD copying software is having difficulties with the DVD300e drives.

If you use their software to burn DVDs, the drive becomes totally and permanently unusable.


So, what's going on?

Was I simply the victim of coincidence: should I get a USB CD-burner and an IDE 120GB Tape Drive (although _another_ report on CD Freaks says that CD-R disks which are supposed to be guaranteed for ten years are failing in under ONE year)?

Or is the failures in these drives from different manufacturers deliberate, as part of some brain-dead DMCA-inspired copy protection measure?

Basically, any such brain-dead measures would consist of the following conversation between the software and the drive:

"Halloo mr drive, i am flakey-software version twooo"

"Halloo mr flakey-software, are you trying to copy a DVD?"

"OO, noo, mr drive, i'm trying to burn some backups 0x5e49238489e5d8bc007819"

"oo, mr flakey software, you are veery naaughty but I like your numbers. want a ride on my disk, then?"

"yes pleeease mr drive, here's some backup data of my user's favourite hard-core moovies, you can voyeur them with me if you like"

you get the picture. the clue is in the communication. if the "code" is not included in the conversation, the drive goes into a firmware-induced meltdown, and subsequently cannot be used. ever.

It should be very easy to monitor the USB devices in order to ascertain whether such codes are in fact being used. I presume that it would be reasonably trivial to use a Linux box as a pass-through USB monitoring station between a Windows system and the USB drive?

Now, my question is, has anyone else come across similar drive failures recently, with USB, IDE or SCSI devices?

Before going and laying it thick on Freecom and Hewlett Packard it's important to establish that there is, in fact, a problem, and that there is, in fact, some Cartelling practices being established that are masquerading as pointless "copy protection" software.

Much as I would _like_ to encourage people to go to their nearest computer hardware store with a reputation of dealing with refunds and replacements without hesitation and working through their entire stock of DVD writers, the facts need to be established.

What are your experiences?

It's more like sloppy firmware, etc..., posted 24 Nov 2003 at 03:48 UTC by Svartalf » (Journeyer)

Boils down to the fact that there's at least some vendors that are playing fast and loose with things on the ATAPI spec- there's at least one instance of a vendor (LG, to be specific) that cheated and reused an ATAPI command that wasn't supported on the drive to be the reflash command for their regular CD-ROM drives. What's to say that this isn't another case of something not unlike it.

Never attribute malice to what can adequately be explained by blind stupidity- especially when you've not got anything further than you've got.

Oh, and by the way, it's REAL easy to tell which is which on the DVD burner types. All of the burner boxes are plainly labeled DVD-R/RW DVD+R/RW or have +/- on the label and clearly state they're dual formated drives if they are so. A quick look on the face of the burner will generally tell you which formats are supported with the drive. Most modern "-" drives will have the official DVD consortium logo with the R/RW 4.7 designation underneath- the "-" drives are purportedly the official format for recordable and rewritable drives per the consortium. The "+" drive will have a stylized "RW" inside a box and have "rewritable" underneath the box. A dual mode drive will have both logos on it. As the author of the article indicates, you should check carefully which you're buying and know what you're looking for before buying a burner.

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