It’s something we take for granted now, but not so long ago, the only way to scratch and cue records was with analog vinyl. Now, of course, simulating those behaviors using digital records on turntables connected to computers is commonplace. But that hasn’t stopped the question of who owns the technology from spawning legal disputes. Most recently, a suit brought by patent claimants N2IT against M-Audio was dismissed. You can read the history from the time N2IT, a two-person company, launched their first commercial digital DJing (for BeOS, no less) back in the late 90s.

In patents, “first” is everything. And while N2IT had the first commercial product, it seems that broadly speaking the concept of how to make digital DJing work was not exclusively theirs. Chris Bauer writes CDM to share documentation of his own working prototype in 1998, before N2IT shipped their product. Nor is he alone. N2IT hasn’t yet brought suit against digital DJ maker Serato, and Serato’s Steve West publicly demonstrated research at the University of Aukland which leads back to 1996, well ahead of N2IT’s own demos.

It’s well worth reading the whole article for the timeline, but the basic concept is this:

the system created the illusion that the music being heard was actually on the record. and any piece of digitised music could be ‘played’ using this one special record and the spacedeck prototype. the system was fairly crude, but was certainly a working proof-of-concept. you could also perform needle-drops, and very rudimentary scratches. both of these techniques are essential for djing with vinyl, as this is how djs cue and beat-match the records they play.
the main steps of development were as follows:
1. research timecode. it soon became evident that SMPTE timecode would probably be the easiest to work with.
2. burn CDR with SMPTE and write code to ‘listen’ to it and get the speed, direction and position of the code.
3. research and write code to manipulate the speed, direction and position of digital audio files. i used quicktime.
4. write code to playback an audio file according to the incoming timecode data
5. get acetate record (dubplate) with SMPTE timecode on it, test with the system and and fine-tune timecode reading routines
surprisingly, there were no major problems in development. this is probably due to the concept being very simple.

And while N2IT indisputably had the first commercially-available product, this could call their patent claim into question:

the granting of N2ITs patent/s is extremely contentious, as they failed to mention various pieces of ‘prior art’ in their original application, including my project/MA thesis, which they were aware of as early as 2001. patent applicants are obliged to disclose this type of information if they are aware of it.

Chris’ full article:
the spacedeck project 2009

  • analog vinyl is still part of the equation. there are alternate vinyl based control records that have recorded analog material on one side and the "control tone" on the other. also, the control cd's are burned with the same control signal so essentially anything that "emits" this control signal can control the DVS. i had heard about N2IT in 1997 and presented it to the DJ Scratch community spearheaded by the ISP crew. At the time N2IT claimed that only BEOS could work as an operating system because you had to have two sound cards on the PC thus Linux was a more viable OS for the handling of audio processing and encoding and decoding of audio files. this was years before USB audio would become standard as well.

    however, this is an issue about patent and owning an idea. i'm watching this closely because it'll set precedence if N2IT manages to pull a win in court.

  • Nonymous, A

    the RZA / Replicator did it before anyone


  • RZA's story is interesting, but there are some problems with it:

    1. There's no clear timeframe that places the Replicator before Serato, the spacedeck, or even N2IT's product.

    2. RZA himself only brought up the Replicator in late 2007.

    3. There's no documentation or evidence I've seen of the Replicator ever having existed. That's not to say it didn't, but without documentation, it's irrelevant to any patent discussion, and it certainly produces some questions about RZA's description. (Without documentation, it's hard to know what the thing even looked like, sounded like, or how it worked, even before getting into the validity of RZA's claim.)

    Unlike RZA's phantom Replicator, the Serato and spacedeck work was fully documented.

    Now, of course, if someone can produce a record (so to speak) — *any* record — of the Replicator, that might change things.

  • well for something to be considered prior art it needs to be published. i have not read the linked article, but i think you are not making this clear enough in your blog post. its not enough for a proof of concept to have existed. that proof of concept also needs to be "pubished" to the world at large (i do not know off the top of my head what the definition of "publish" really includes in this context).

  • @DJSDive – the MA Digital Arts thesis which included a detailed technical report on the project, was published in the University library in 1998. That makes it legitimate prior art.

  • Aaron Mora

    @Peter Kirn- I distinctly recall an interview w/ Ghostface Killah around 2000 where he talks about RZA using his replicator during the production of Supreme Clientele

  • I had a relative who worked on Radio City Music Hall's sound stage for 40 years and now own albums that predate vinyls- as well as all the vinyl show tunes from the 1940s-1960s; but these others appear to be glasslike, and some are in cases like books with flipping pages. Early Steve Allen, Arthur Rubenstein, opras, etc. Also famous broadcasts including the Hindenburg Disaster and the "fake" War of the Worlds and jingles to get men to sign up for WWII. How would I go about selling the? I have digital photographs and a list.

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