Why is the DV input disabled on most digital camcorders sold in Europe?

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bcrabtree
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Joined: Mar 7 1999

To try to explain how this stupid situation arose (and continues), I've included here (a preliminary version of) a submission that I made to the European Parliament, way back in mid 1998!!!

Bob C

European Audio Visual Conference

Submission (by email) to Working Groups 1 (one) and 3 (three) by Bob Crabtree, Editor, Computer Video magazine.

EU Regulations and their adverse effects within the European Union on:

* The sale and use of digital camcorders and digital video editing hardware and software.

* Employment prospects for independent producers of television programmes and films.

THE PROBLEM Unlike the rest of the world, camcorder manufacturers continue to disable the input/record function on camcorders imported into the EU. They do this to avoid a punitive duty which has distorted the market.

CAUSE That EU custom duties have failed to keep pace with technology and the EU continues to classify camcorders with inputs as video recorders.

RESULT A punitive level of import duty has lead camcorder manufacturers to disable their products for the EU market. No extra tax is being collected by the outdated regulation - all that happens is that functionality is reduced. This disadvantages European video users and producers alike, especially with the latest digital models. This is having a damaging effect on European creativity and competitiveness in the increasingly important audio-visual sector.

Background

Regulations were introduced in the mid 1980s to protect newly developing EU-based makers of video cassette recorders (VCRs) from unfair pricing of VCRs made outside the EU.

The regulations imposed on domestic VCRs (C&E classification code 8521103000) an import duty of 14% (at point of entry). A this point, VCRs were analogue devices

At the time the regulations were introduced, the technology to make camcorders (one-piece combined video cameras and portable VCRs) did not exist.

When the first video cameras for consumer use were introduced, they had to be used in the home, connected by cable to large, non-portable home VCRs - to record moving images from the cameras onto tape.

Within a few years, VCRs powered from battery or mains were introduced. These were slightly smaller and slightly lighter than home VCRs, and were supplied with protective soft cases that had carrying handles and shoulder-straps. Often, these portable VCRs were sold with separate TV tuners. The TV tuners connected to the VCRs and (when further connected, to a TV aerial) enabled users to record off-air broadcasts onto tape.

After a year or two came the first camcorders. These, however, were not really camcorders at all. Instead they combined a separate video camera and separate VCR within a "cradle", which held the two components together and was used shoulder-mounted.

About one year later, came the first true camcorders - products in which the camera and VCR were combined in a single assembly, and could not be separated.

Some of these early, true, camcorders had input sockets that enabled them to accept signals from TV tuners, VCRs or other camcorders, others did not. Like their predecessors, these camcorders were analogue devices.

Presently - as a result of EU regulations 2454/93 - camcorders have two classification codes, each with a different level of duty, according to whether or not they have input capabilities. If the camcorder has a line input (and so can be used as a VCR), its code is 8525409100, and it is liable to an import duty of 14%, ie the same as a true VCR.

If the camcorder has no line input, its code is 8525409900 and it incurs a lesser import duty of 4.9%.

The original reasoning behind this dual classification would seem to have been that it prevented makers of camcorders importing products which carry a lesser duty than VCRs and that would be used instead of VCRs - to the detriment of EU makers of VCRs.

However, since VCRs are much cheaper in shops than camcorders, the makers of camcorders (many of which are also makers of imported VCRs) have, in the main chosen to import into the EU camcorders with no line input, because to do otherwise would increase the shop price of camcorders and reduce sales volumes.

To produce good quality video films, original footage needs to be edited. In the past camcorder users in the EU have edited their footage by connecting their analogue camcorders to their VCRs (sometimes via special-effects and titling hardware), and recording sections of the original footage onto their VCRs.

Although the differential duty appears, today, to be quite pointless, the absence of an input on most camcorders imported into the EU that has resulted has had little adverse effect on camcorder users, who found themselves able, if they wished to, to edit from analogue camcorders onto analogue VCRs they already owned.

The arrival of digital camcorders, however, means that the present regulations and duty levels for camcorders are placing a barrier on users' abilities to edit in ways that take full advantage of digital technology.

One of the principal benefits of digital camcorders is that, potentially, they provide very high quality results after editing - far higher than is possible with analogue - assuming the signal remains in the digital domain throughout. This is because, in an all digital system, there is little or no degradation of picture or sound quality, even after repeated editing or copying.

Like their analogue predecessors, digital camcorders imported into the EU do not, in the main, have line inputs or, rather, if they do have line input sockets, these have in most cases been disabled in the factory.

Unfortunately, most users of digital camcorders do not own and cannot afford to buy a digital VCR that would allow them to carry out editing totally in the digital domain. Digital VCRs (all imported) are over 10 times more expensive that analogue VCRs, with prices starting from £2200, compared with £150 or less (UK pricing). As a result, most users of digital camcorders do not edit in the digital domain and are unable to take proper advantage of the technology.

However, if digital camcorders carried working digital line inputs, many more users could afford the price of a second digital camcorder (these start from £850) or pairs or groups of users could get together and use one another's camcorders to carry out editing in the digital domain.

There is one further - and, perhaps, more significant way - in which the extra duty chargeable on camcorders with line inputs is distorting the market and disadvantaging consumers.

Recording tape-to-tape is known as linear editing because, to access any part of the tape requires you to wind back or forward along its length - a time consuming process that wears out tape transport mechanisms.

However, if the video is transferred into a computer, the user has direct, and virtually instant access to the material, because the video is stored on the computer's hard disk, and hard disks offer non-linear (and virtually instant) access to any part of their surface.

Combine a digital camcorder as source, with a computer for editing (and special effects and titling), and you have another means of all-digital editing that is much easier and more efficient than tape-to-tape.

Unfortunately, video requires vast amounts of hard disk space - so indeed (3.6Mb per second of digital tape), that it is impractical for all but the super-rich to use hard disks for anything other than work in progress. Once editing has been carried out, the video must be erased from the hard disk, to clear space for the next video to be edited.

However, unless the user has access to an affordable digital format with the ability to hold hours of video cheaply (and the only "long-form" digital format is digital video tape, as used in expensive digital VCRs, and digital camcorders with no inputs), users will have to convert their video footage from the digital state in which it is held on their hard disks to an analogue state suitable for recording onto analogue ie onto VHS and S-VHS tape - causing an initial loss of quality during the conversion process,. plus further degradation if this footage is ever required to be brought back into the computer for further editing - which is highly likely.

This problem would be overcome at a stroke if digital camcorders with digital inputs were made available in the EU but, currently, few are available because, their makers say, the higher price caused by the extra duty makes them uncommercial.

It is possible that makers have one or two ulterior motives for this claim, and for not freely supplying digital camcorders with digital inputs.

It may be the case they are happy for consumers to have no choice but to buy expensive digital VCRs, which the camcorder makers themselves manufacture.

It also may be the case that camcorder makers see the very high quality available from consumer digital models as threatening their sale of professional and broadcast camcorders and editing equipment if digital camcorders have digital inputs and can easily be used for editing. And, it is the case that, already, many broadcasters and independent TV producers do use digital camcorders intended for consumer use, and which cost one fifth the price, or less, of professional models.

It is my contention, therefore, that EU regulations 2454/93 need to be amended so that camcorders with inputs do not carry any additional duty, and that all camcorders should carry a duty of no more than 4.9%.

Bob Crabtree
editor
Computer Video magazine

bcrabtree
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Joined: Mar 7 1999

Rather stupidly, I made no comment until now about one very important fact - that DV-in enablers are available from a number of sources, the most popular being:
www.datavision.co.uk www.lynxdv.com www.smartdv.co.uk

Oh, and some Canon camcorders (MV20, MV200, MV3/MV3MC and MV30) can be enabled for free. See Bram Bouwens’s site at:
http://www.xs4all.nl/~bbouwens/dv/

And so can some Panasonic camocorders. See Michal Krejcik’s site:
http://www.volny.cz/mkrejcik/dvzone.htm

Bob C

[This message has been edited by bcrabtree (edited 11 August 2002).]

bcrabtree
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Joined: Mar 7 1999

Amazing, but true!

Cease-and-desist letters threatening court injunctions and claims for damages have been received by makers and sellers of camcorder DV-in enablers across the EU.

The letters, which arrived in late September without any prior warnings or discussions, demand the complete end to the selling and promotion of all hardware, software and services for re-enabling the DV inputs of Panasonic camcorders, and were sent from the Belgian offices of Matsushita, the parent company of Panasonic and JVC.

To date, no such letters have been received about enablers for JVC camcorder, or any other brand.

Panasonic’s strong-arm campaign is the second recent blow to DV-in enabling firms.

Earlier this year, these folk heroes of the video editing world discovered that their enablers didn’t work with any of the nEUTered camcorders introduced this season by the big four brands – Sony, Panasonic, Canon and JVC.

Soon after, they realised that there was no way of enabling these new models without modifying them in ways that would invalidate their guarantees and cost more than any user would be willing to pay.

Perhaps explaining the nasty letters and the apparently mean-minded change to this season's models, 18 months or so ago, the EU sent a letter to all camcorder makers threatening THEM with major financial penalties if they didn't make it impossible for disabled inputs on their camcorders to be turned back on.

The threat, as we understand it, was that camcorder makers would be made to pay backdated import duty on EVERY camcorder ever brought into the EU that could have its input re-enabled - the amount per camcorder being the difference between the 4.9% duty on the landed valued of each camcorder, and the 14 per cent duty that would be payable if it had a working input.

Whatever the case, our view is that Panasonic is wrong to have sent out threatening letters, and that camcorder makers are wrong to cow-tow to the EU.

These companies should instead be joining forces with their trade and public customers to get rescinded the EU regulations that levy a higher duty on camcorders with working video inputs.

This situation exists nowhere else in the world and puts a wide range of EU citizens and businesses at an unfair disadvantage.

Below is the full text of Panasonic’s letter.

==============
[FROM] Matsushita Electric Europe Liaison Office
Stationsstraat 26 – 1702 Groot-Bijgaardent, Belgium

Gentlemen:

We bring to your attention that the DV-IN software and DV-IN widgets that you are offering for sale and selling, as well as the related DV-IN services and advertisements, are infringing our copyright to the DV-IN deactivation software that we have installed in our camcorders marketed under the Panasonic brand and are constituting unfair competition practices.

We consider these infringements and unfair competition practices very serious and hereby put you on notice to cease and desist from developing, manufacturing, offering for sale, selling, promoting and servicing DV-IN software or DV-IN widgets or any other means or services aiming to activate the deactivated DV-IN function in our camcorders, failing which we reserve the right to initiate legal proceedings in order to obtain prohibitory injunctions under penalty and damages for all prejudice resulting from your illegal acts.

This letter is sent to you without any prejudicial acknowledgement on our behalf.

Yours sincerely,

Hiroshi ISHII
Director,
Matsushita Electric Europe Brussels Liaison Office
Tel: 02 231 13 80
Fax: 02 230 56 07
===========

To join Computer Video’s campaign against neutered camcorders, go to: ww.computervideo.net/firewire.html

Bob Crabtree (who, stupidly, had thought that this nonsense was becoming a non-issue)

[This message has been edited by bcrabtree (edited 03 October 2002).]

bcrabtree
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Joined: Mar 7 1999

In response to my request from Panasonic for a comment about these developments, the company sent me the following:

============
4th October 2002

Mr Bob Crabtree
Computer Video
53-79 Highgate Road
London
NW5 1TW

Ref: DV-IN email dated Wednesday 02 October 2002

Dear Mr Crabtree

Thank you for your e-mail.

First of all, we wish to correct a misconception in your email.

The EU did not threaten the camcorder manufacturers with major financial difficulties if they did not stop their camcorders from being able to have their DV-inputs being enabled as is stated in your e-mail.

Instead, in July 2001, the EU published an explanatory note on the Classification of camcorders of which the video interface can be activated after customs clearance as video input by means of software.

As a result, Customs Authorities are contemplating or, in some countries, deciding to classify certain camcorders as video recorders based on their ability to receive DV-IN signals.

Third parties engaged in the development and use of software solutions to circumvent and infringe our copyright in the DV-IN deactivation software, may jeopardize the intellectual property rights to our own software.

In addition, if we fail to take action, while being aware that DV-IN activation software has been developed and marketed, we may be seen by Customs Authorities to be assisting or endorsing the circumvention.

I hope this clarifies our position in this matter.

Yours sincerely

Alison Harper
Panasonic UK Press Officer
==================
The news story about this is in our December 2002 issue (on sale last Thursday of October).

The news story is as follows:

++++++++++++++++
CV News Dec 2002

Headline

Panasonic turns nasty

Cease-and-desist letters threatening court injunctions and claims for damages have been received by makers and sellers of camcorder DV-in enablers across the EU.

The letters, which arrived without prior warning or discussions, demand the end to the selling and promotion of all hardware, software and services for re-enabling the DV inputs of Panasonic camcorders, and were sent from the Belgian offices of Matsushita, the parent company of Panasonic and JVC. To date, no such letters have been received about enablers for JVC camcorders, or any other brand.

In the UK and other EU countries, DV-in enablers are a necessary part of many video editors’ toolkits because, unlike anywhere else in the world, some DV camcorders sold in the EU don’t have working DV inputs (still the majority, we think). But many buyers only realise this when they try (and fail) to record their lovingly edited footage back out from their computers to their DV camcorders via FireWire. For these unfortunates, DV enablers (which sell for under £100) have prevented a lot of grief and meant it’s not been necessary to buy a DV VCR or a second camcorder with a working input.

Panasonic’s strong-arm campaign is the second recent blow to DV-in enabling firms. Earlier this year, these folk heroes of the video editing world discovered that their enablers didn’t work with any of the nEUTered camcorders introduced this season by the big four brands – Sony, Panasonic, Canon and JVC. Soon after, they realised that there was no way of enabling these new models without modifying them in ways that would invalidate their guarantees and cost more than any user would be willing to pay.

The reason for the nasty letters and the apparently mean-minded change to this season's models seems to be that camcorder makers are scared that EU customs will hit THEM with major financial penalties if they don’t make it impossible for disabled inputs on their camcorders to be turned back on, and are not seen to be doing something about stopping the inputs on earlier models from being re-enabled.

Panasonic UK – the only one of the big four to respond to our queries – says that in July 2001 the EU published an explanatory note on the classification [for import duty] of camcorders that could have their video inputs enabled in software.

This, Panasonic says, has led Customs in different EU countries to consider changing or actually change the duty payable on such models by reclassifying them as video recorders.

Although Panasonic denies that it has been threatened, this does suggest that camcorder makers fear that certain countries’ Customs may try to make them pay back-dated import duty on EVERY camcorder ever brought into those countries that could have its input re-enabled - the amount per camcorder being the difference between the 4.9% duty on the landed valued of the camcorder, and the 14 per cent duty that would be payable if it had a working input.

Whatever the case, our view is that Panasonic is wrong to have sent out threatening letters, and that camcorder makers are wrong to cow-tow to Customs and the EU. These companies should instead be joining forces with their trade and public customers to get rescinded the stupid EU regulations that levy a higher duty on camcorders with working video inputs. This situation exists nowhere else in the world and puts a wide range of EU citizens and businesses at an unfair disadvantage.

For the full text of Panasonic’s original letter and its response to our queries, and for more information about why most camcorders in the EU do not have working inputs, see: www.dvdoctor.net/cgi-bin/ubb/Forum3/HTML/000047.html. To join Computer Video’s campaign against neutered camcorders, go to: www.computervideo.net/firewire.html
++++++++++++++++
My Opening scream in the same issue is largely about this too and on that subject said (before sub-editing and cutting to fit):
==============

Something that kept my blood boiling in the magazine’s early years was the stupid situation in the EU – and only in the EU - where camcorders didn’t have video inputs.

The inputs had been removed so that the camcorders wouldn’t be classified as VCRs and subject to a punitive rate of EU import duty – a strategy from the mists of time intended to protect our indigenous makers of VCRs from sneaky Far East types who made three-part camcorders (camera, VCR and TV tuner) and hoped to sell them without paying the full duty.

Stupidly, this regulation was not rescinded when one-piece camcorders came along even though the distinction between a camcorder and a VCR was now indisputable – one has a lens at the front, and can record things through it to a built-in drive; the other has no lens and can only record down a wire.
As a result, camcorder makers removed the inputs on camcorder being sold in the EU.

And, when DV camcorders arrived, the EU regulation was still in place, so makers turned off the input capability of camcorder FireWire ports. Consequently, there was no way of getting computer-edited DV footage back out to tape in high quality as DV, without buying an expensive DV VCR. And many consumers only found out a long time after they bought camcorders.

Fortunately, it was discovered that many camcorder DV inputs could be turned back on in software, and the DV-in enabling industry was started - saving video editors a small fortune and a lot of heartache.

Things gradually settled, with lots of enablers coming available, and with most camcorder makers also introducing a selection of models with working inputs.

But then, when this season’s new neutered camcorders started arriving, it became clear that their inputs hadn’t been disabled in software but by changes to the hardware, ensuring that any form of enabling is totally impractical. Worse, in September, makers of enablers across the EU received a cease-and-desist threat from Panasonic (news, p11). After our news pages closed, a similar letter from Sharp started landing on door mats, and we heard that one from Sony had been sent to some German firms.

Seemingly, the hardware changes and the camcorder makers’ threats are the result of the actions of some officious morons in the EU. Rather than do the sensible thing and explain to their political masters that these outdated regulations should be scrapped, they’d thought they’d better start enforcing them –ignoring the fact that this would further disadvantage millions of EU citizens and video-making businesses.

Scream? Sure – I’ll scream - but what I really want is for these jobsworth bureaucrats to understand how stupid they’ve been, and for camcorder makers and retailers to have the courage to kick the behinds of the politicians who are allowing the rights of EU citizens to be trodden under foot. Those citizens themselves (including you) also need to stand up and start shouting.
=================
Oh, and the letters from Sony are starting to arrive with the UK-based DV-in enabling companies. They come from Sony's Berlin office and are signed by Deborah Blum, General Manager Legal Affairs Europe

I have one here, and, in general terms, it is uncannily like the original sent out by Panasonic.

Bob C

[This message has been edited by bcrabtree (edited 15 October 2002).]

bcrabtree
Offline
Joined: Mar 7 1999

Commenting to bring this one up the list

Bob C