May 28, 2024

Movie Studios Form DRM Lab

Hollywood argues – or at least strongly implies – that technology companies could stop copyright infringement if they wanted to, but have chosen not to do so. I have often wondered whether Hollywood really believes this, or whether the claim is just a ploy to gain political advantage.

Such a ploy might be very effective if it worked. Imagine that you somehow convinced policymakers that the auto industry could make cars that operated with no energy source at all. You could then demand that the auto industry make all sorts of concessions in energy policy, and you could continue to criticize them for foot-dragging no matter how much they did.

If you were using this ploy, the dumbest thing you could do is to set up your own “Perpetual Motion Labs” to develop no-energy-source cars. Your lab would fail, of course, and its failure would demonstrate that your argument was bogus all along. You would only set up the lab if you thought that perpetual-motion cars were pretty easy to build.

Which brings us to the movie industry’s announcement, yesterday, that they will set up “MovieLabs”, a $30 million research effort to develop effective anti-copying technologies. The only sensible explanation for this move is that Hollywood really believes that there are easily-discovered anti-copying technologies that the technology industry has failed to find.

So Hollywood is still in denial about digital copying.

The pressure will be on MovieLabs to find strong anti-copying technologies, because a failure by MovieLabs can’t be blamed on the tech industry. Failure will show, instead, that stopping digital copying is much harder than Hollywood thought. And MovieLabs will fail, just as Perpetual Motion Labs would.

When MovieLabs fails, expect the spinners to emerge again, telling us that MovieLabs has a great technology that it can’t tell us about, or that there’s a great technology that isn’t quite finished, or that the goal all along was not to stop P2P copying but only to reduce some narrow, insignificant form of copying. Expect, most of all, that MovieLabs will go to almost any length to avoid independent evaluation of its technologies.

This is a chance for Hollywood to learn what the rest of us already know – that cheap and easy copying is an unavoidable side-effect of the digital revolution.


  1. I am grateful for this research and $ being put into these programs because piracy/copying/duplicating means there is less $ for me to feed my cats @ $20.00 20 lb. bag.

    I did a Grammy nominated CD in ’96 which my own nephew pirated!

    Now that I do film student music and indie film music not to mention music for the web, it is as important as it always was not to be ripped off but to evade the techonology that is making it hard for us film composers.

  2. Lo Studio Legale Canonico Leo – Di Benedetto aiuterà coloro che vogliono divorziare, separarsi consensualmente o condividere un affidamento



  4. yea I agree AV but still, I think the harder the code the better we can get a time frame as to when the code will be cracked.

  5. They have tried it with Sdmi.

    “Yes, but it has nothing to do with vista. All DVI and HDMI sold by 2006 must by complient with HDCP. ”

    also yes, i wish the Ipod craze would stop…really.

  6. K i jstu want to saay that this is a really wierd website… i mean like whatever…

  7. “Will you need to upgrade your monitor to watch movies in Windows Vista?”

    Yes, but it has nothing to do with vista. All DVI and HDMI sold by 2006 must by complient with HDCP. IE, they will encrypt content so it cannot be ripped, and only authorized devices (monitors/tvs) will be eligable for keys.
    Most often the content will be available at a lower resolution, but some content will just not be available unless all the hardware peices involved are HDCP complient.

  8. I am curious. Is everyone angry at the idea that someone would want to require people pay for the music/movies/content that they listen to, watch, enjoy? Or, are we talking about restrictions on the music/movies/content that we legally purchase? In other words, are we supporting some form of theft or are we supporting ‘fair-use’ as understood under Copyright Law?

    The problem is that the DMCA removed the fair-use provisions and makes watching the movie on the DVD illegal UNLESS you watch it from the DVD you purchased (not a back-up DVD, and not from your Treo 650).

    H.R. 1201 is a good start at amending the DMCA. See the EFF’s website for information on this proposed change to the DMCA.

    I don’t care to ‘steal’ content. I only want the freedom to enjoy the content I have paid a license to enjoy in the manner in which I want to enjoy it. IMHO, it should be legal for me to view “Underworld,” the movie, on my Treo 650 if I have purchased the DVD.

    So, while I enjoy free movies or free music, IF that is how it was distributed, I don’t mind paying for movies/music/content as long as the license I am buying allows me to enjoy the purchased movie/music/content when and how I want.


  9. > The movie studios’ real purpose is not to fight piracy but
    > to fight indy producers.

    > Once they make DRM cumpulsory, they can contrive to lock indy
    > producers out of the Internet.
    The more they lock down their own content, the more attractive indy content will be. The MPAA and RIAA are a classical example of “how to shoot yourself in the foot”, repeatedly and effectively.

  10. They have to say this shit. They have to. They have two choices: Say that effective DRM is possible, or say that their entire industry is going to go up in a puff of smoke. Plenty of people take the second option; they also (voluntarily or involuntarily) leave the industry. They will thus increasingly (more than even before) be an industry of idiots and liars, in whatever proportion. And then: puff.

  11. “Our best scientists tried every possible DRM technology within the current legal framework, and it didn’t work. We did the best we could, can we have our ban on general-purpose computers now?”

  12. Fin Squandrago says

    Developing your own flavour of DRM would also seem to be a pretty good way of cutting DRM suppliers off from the revenue pie, and the never-ending access to same that would come along with licensing somebody else’s technology. $30 million, aka the catering budget for the last Jerry Bruckheimer movie, is a drop in the bucket next to those licensing fees.

  13. Great commentary.
    I bet their solutions will be just as good as the movies they produce.
    Ever since napster, Hollywood/music distis have been fighting p2p networks where they should have realized what we all did back then (c.1999)… that they should join-in instead of fight it. They are now too high on the tree to climb down and admit it and this initiative is the result.
    In similar news, just got out of beta phase. It allows a physical p2p exchange of DVDs. Hollywood has already called the lawyers… although _for now_, it is completely legal.

  14. I think the people paying for the labs believe they’ll make their money back. All they have to do is increase their revenues by the $30 million and recoup the cost of implementing the technology. Or get somebody else to do pay for it.

    Sony is on both sides, owning movies and a player business. What do they say and do?

  15. It’ s possible that the tax payers are going to pay for this somehow eventually. AFTER we pay for it as consumers.

    /whatever hollywood.

  16. Alexander Wehr says

    In response to Fred von Lohmann;

    I don’t believe even mandates/regulation will work. If you mandate filters using guidelines or ban protocols, the p2p technology will adapt. This has already begun to happen at universities in which p2p traffic has been supposedly entirely bocked. As has been said so many times, the internet will route around all attempts at censorship unless you completely eliminate the ability of individuals to send data and relegate it to just another broadcast medium.

    With the way things are going, however, I fear this may well occur.

    I think the best hope for the future of new technology, especially an open internet and general purpose computing, is to lobby for intro CS courses to be added to the mandated school curricula nationwide.

    There are many fictional storylines in scifi which involve primitive tribal cultures being misled through misrepresentation of scientific phoenomina as “magic” or “power of the gods”. I think something similar is going on with media portrayal of technology, and basic CS in schools is a good long term method to combat it.

    (My favorite example of this is the press release regarding the bit torrent shutdowns earlier this year in which the mpaa spokesman either deliberately or out of pure ignorance stated that shutting down those tracking sites slowed down the speeds of unrelated torrents. Astoundingly the major media just ate this up.)

  17. The movie studios’ real purpose is not to fight piracy but to fight indy producers.
    Once they make DRM cumpulsory, they can contrive to lock indy producers out of the Internet.

  18. In a month they will release a sample of how incredible their DRM is…it won’t play on your computer, in your car, on your home theatre, or in your MP3 will be undeniable proof that they have accomplished their goal: destroying all forms of creativity in a blind effort to fight the advance of technology. Of course, destroying creativity isn’t their goal, it is just a natural side-effect of their idiocy.

  19. Oh, there are lots of obvious things we *could* do–filter out filenames and whatnot.

    The problem is that there are easy solutions to them. And quick counter-hacks. Which leaves us in an endless, pointless and unwinnable arms race.

    Reminds me of a tune: Stay one step ahead of the game. One step ahead of the game and you will make it through…

  20. Didn’t they try this already with SDMI?

  21. It may be that this new organization is less interested in DRM aimed at stopping copying than in targeting the channels of distribution (i.e., networking technology). Here are some of the technologies they announced on their agenda:

    ¶Network management technologies to detect and block illegal file transfers on campus and business networks.

    ¶Traffic analysis tools to detect illegal content sharing on peer-to-peer networks.

    ¶Ways to prevent home and personal digital networks from being tapped into by unauthorized users, while not preventing consumers from sending a movie to more than one TV set without having to pay for it each time.

    ¶Ways to link senders and receivers of movies transmitted over the Internet to geographic and political territories, to monitor the distribution of movies and prevent the violation of license agreements.

    All of this requires technology mandates or regulation of encryption, or both. Perhaps Hollywood has learned the Darknet lesson — it’s now aiming its sights at the internet and the technologies that make it possible.

  22. One other thought I had about this lab initiative…
    The media companies might be sick of being burned time after time by third-party companies that sell them on DRM technologies that will save their business, then find out they were sold a sham when those DRM solutions are cracked in short order. I think much of the reason media companies are so completely behind DRM as a workable solution to copying is that they’ve been convinced of it’s viability by these DRM companies with sales pitches, white papers. smooth talking CTO’s, etc. And this sales job works because they media companies are so desparate for a solution they are willing to suspend logic so they can believe they’ve found the one real DRM. They’re suckers for DRM because they need to believe. Which brings us to the DRM labs. One reason they might want to form they’re own R&D for DRM is to cut out untrustworthy third party DRM companies who’ve burned them over and over in the past. They then don’t need to pay royalties or sign license agreements that drain off revenue. I also agree that this may dovetail with a political push for anti-copying restrictions. Will you need to upgrade your monitor to watch movies in Windows Vista?

  23. Maybe MovieLabs was formed to address the fears of investors and Wall Street analysts. Maybe they just want to show that they are working on the problem, no matter how ineffective that may turn out to be. When dealing with Wall Street, it is next quarter’s results that matter. Many quarters will pass before MovieLabs fails, but Wall Street will have forgotten about it by then.

  24. I think the deal is, some enterprising entertainment lawyer got the idea of going around to the studios to sell them on the idea of setting up a piracy-prevention lab, and giving him a multimillion-dollar budget to do it with. It doesn’t matter if the lab produces any technology of any description, because by then it will already have soaked up the money, and the guy behind it will have had his fat payday. The thing about Hollywood is, because of the groupthink they get into, sometimes a project comes along that nobody can say no to, not necessarily because it is actually going to be a great project but because of whose names are attached to it; each studio exec who gets a look at it doesn’t evaluate it on its own merits but rather on the basis that he thinks that all the others would say yes to it, and so there’s a bidding war.

    I think this piracy lab is the same deal. It is the sort of idea that no studio legal department could credibly say no to, because even if one individual guy thinks it’s a dumb idea he cannot claim that everybody else around town will also think so; therefore it is more important to avoid missing the boat than it is to avoid wasting some money on a particular flop.

  25. joeseph shmoe says

    “Initially it will look at piracy prevention but later will get a wider remit, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

    MovieLabs will be looking at ways to jam camcorders, detect and block P2P transfers on campus and business networks.

    It will build spyware for p2p networks and look at better ways to prevent home and personal digital networks from being tapped into by unauthorised users.”

  26. Yes but…these are the same folks who think that they should be allowed to hack in to peoples computers and break them to stop jolly rogerism.
    Given this mindset I think they are probably building a death ray.

  27. I was about to state what Lewis Baumstark stated. This is not on how to create the “perfect” DRM. It is on forcing a DRM scheme on all hardware and software platforms via law.

  28. Joshua Smith says

    This scheme sort of reminds me of those intelligent design guys.

  29. Lewis Baumstark says

    I wonder how much of this MovieLabs project is really meant to be a policy-influencing mechanism. They create some DRM (which includes far more than anti-copying technology) and then muscle Congress to mandate it for DVD players and so forth.

    The fact the technology won’t work to prevent copying is moot. What it could do, however, is give the media companies an “in” to restrict regular users (the ones without the knowledge, initiative, or guts to circumvent the DRM) in how they use movies and such. This assumes success in getting the government to mandate their technology.

    To ramble a bit more, it occurs to me that, instead of trying to recoup losses from “piracy,” perhaps the media companies are instead quietly working on a strategy of making casual users (the vast majority who honestly want to stay within the law, regardless of how poor the law is) pay more, via pay-per-use, time-limited downloads, etc. Certainly DRM is capable of this, despite being incapable of preventing copying by a few determined individuals.