17
$\begingroup$

This may be slightly off topic (maybe there's a Legal Stack Exchange :-D), but how is it that codecs like Yaesu's C4FM are allowed to be proprietary while still being used on Amateur bands? At the very least, this does not seem to be in keeping with the nature of Amateur Radio.

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was afraid of this answer when I posted the question but had hoped there was a specific known answer (some agreement by some body like the ITU, for example). Since it's similar to some US/FCC-Part-97-specific questions, I thought it might be just inside the realm of on-topic. :-) Feel free to close if not. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 13:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JoshuaNozzi Could you edit in a tag to show what country you're licensed in or asking about? Amateur radio regulations differ a great deal between nations. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Apr 6 at 16:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to ham.stackexchange.com! $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Apr 6 at 17:15
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I hope you don't mind that I edited your title to be more broadly-worded, especially for folks who aren't familiar with C4FM. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3
    Apr 6 at 17:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The accepted answer gets to the heart of my question. “Is pay-to-play not the same end result as encryption” and the answer makes a good case that, at least in the eyes of the US FCC, it is not. Thanks, all! $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 19:07
9
$\begingroup$

The requirement on the FCC side of this is that transmissions may not be encrypted in order to hide their content. In the case of C4FM (or the other protocol mentioned in another answer, DMR, or as well in JT8/JT4) anyone can either obtain software or buy a device that supports these protocols and listen to the transmission. There would only be a violation of the FCC regulation against encryption of amateur transmissions if (one of) these protocols used a key or other means to prevent unintended recipients from decoding the transmission -- and that is apparently not the case, at least with DMR, JT8, or C4FM.

Even Morse code could be seen as a "transmission protocol" -- and one that "hides the content" from those who can't copy code. However, the code is public, and (in theory) anyone can learn to read and send Morse. Even if JT8/JT4 or C4FM aren't "public" in the meaning that anyone can write computer code to read the content of a JT8 or C4FM transmission, they are "public" in that anyone with an amateur radio license (of high enough grade) and money can buy the equipment or software that does this.

$\endgroup$
6
  • $\begingroup$ @BrianK1LI Yes, I do. I don't know why, I always cross those two up. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Apr 6 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good, solid answer, thanks. I hesitated to mention encryption and the requirement for messages to be decodable to avoid muddying the waters but this is what I was getting at. Pay-to-play is not necessarily encryption even though the result is the same. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ This does not accurately represent the law, which is that the meaning of the communications may not be obscured (and which proprietary undocumented codecs certainly do). Morse, JT8, DMR, and the like are publicly documented. $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 21:56
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @chrylis-cautiouslyoptimistic- If you think this is wrong (and it appears you do), you should write your own answer, ideally including references from FCC sources re. why they don't enforce against these (by your interpretation) illegal devices (which must have FCC type approval to be sold in the USA, no?). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Apr 7 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ FCC, not FAA :) $\endgroup$ Apr 7 at 18:08
4
$\begingroup$

There are lots of proprietary codecs used in amateur radio. They are allowed in most countries for amateur use simply because they have not been made illegal. But I don't think that's what you're asking.

I think most of us would agree that proprietary codecs are generally against the spirit of amateur radio; we prefer open protocols that anyone can use, adapt, and improve. So why does amateur radio not shun such proprietary codecs?

Every digital phone (voice) protocol in broad amateur or commercial use that I can think of, such as P25, DMR, and D-STAR, uses a proprietary codec, for the simple reason that at the time each protocol was developed, there was no alternative codec with the necessary performance. D-STAR was designed by the Japan Amateur Radio League (JARL), the Japanese national amateur radio association, in partnership with Icom.

Remember that one of the founding principles of amateur radio is "to contribute to the advancement of the radio art", to quote US government law 47 CFR § 97.1. The designers of D-STAR had to choose between advancing the radio art and the principle that amateur radio protocols should be open and free. The designers must have found the choice difficult: everything about D-STAR is open except the codec.

It should be mentioned that there are now free and open codecs, which didn't exist when D-STAR was created, that aim to compete with the proprietary codecs. FreeDV, a digital phone protocol for HF, uses the free and open codec Codec 2. WINMOR competes with PACTOR for sending digital messages over HF in the Winlink system.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

There is a legal corner of StackExchange, but the basic answer you seek is not very complicated. I am not a lawyer, but I am the inventor of a number of patented ideas, so I have experience in this area.

DMR is another proprietary CODEC used by hams, so C4FM is not unique. "Proprietary" in this context simply means that it embodies intellectual property (IP) whose ownership has been claimed by an inventor and granted by a governing authority. In general, you must obtain the IP owner's permission to use it. The owner may allow you to use the IP for free, or may require that you pay, or may set other conditions to use it. The fact that you are using "owned" IP in an activity that must be conducted "without pecuniary interest" does not pertain; the development, manufacturing and distribution of the technologies that enable the activity are not covered by this limitation.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks. The concept of IP isn’t unfamiliar; my question was aimed more at “how is this not considered obfuscating the message if you have to pay to play?”. The accepted answer breaks this down nicely. I could have been clearer with my question. :-) $\endgroup$ Apr 6 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ DMR is not proprietary: its standards are freely downloadable. The AMBE vocoder it uses, however, is proprietary. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 14:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.