April 24, 2014

avatar

Will they ever learn? Hollywood still pursuing DRM

In today’s New York Times, we read that Hollywood is working on a grand unified video DRM scheme intended to allow for video portability, such as, for example, when you visit a hotel room, you’d like to have your videos with you.

What’s sad, of course, is that you can have all of this today with very little fuss. I use iTiVo to extract videos from my TiVo, transcoding them to an iPhone-compatible format. I similarly use Fairmount to rip DVDs to my hard drive, making them easy to play later without worrying about the physical media getting damaged or lost. But if I want to download video, I have no easy mechanism to download non-DRM content. BitTorrent gives access to many things, including my favorite Top Gear, which I cannot get through any other channel, but many things I’d like aren’t available, and of course, there’s the whole legality issue.

I recently bought a copy of Disney/Pixar’s Up (Blu-ray), which includes a “Digital Copy” of some sort that’s rippable, but the other ones are rippable as well (even the Bluray), so I haven’t bothered to sort out how the “Digital Copy” works.

(UPDATE: the disc contains Windows and Mac executables which will ask the user for an “activation code” which is then sent to a Disney server which responds with some sort of decryption key. The resulting file is then installed in iTunes or Windows Media Player with their native DRM restrictions. The Disney server, of course, wants you to set up an account, and they’re working up some sort of YouTube-ish streaming experiences for movies where you’ve entered an activation code.)

So what exactly are the Hollywood types cooking up? There are no technical details in the article, but the broad idea seems to be that you authenticate as yourself from any device, anywhere, and then the central server will let you at “your” content. It’s unclear the extent to which they have an offline viewing story, such as you might want to do on your computer on an airplane. One would imagine they would download an encrypted file, perhaps customized for you, along with a dedicated video player that keeps the key material hidden away through easily broken, poorly conceived mechanisms.

It’s not like we haven’t been here before. I just wonder if we’ll have a repeat of the ill-fated SDMI challenge.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I know the question in the title is probably rheotorical — but, no.

  2. Don Marti says:

    If you’re trying to get users to adopt a consortium’s DRM, and you succeed, all you get is back to where you started, and you’re on an even footing with all the other members of the consortium. If you’re trying to get users to adopt a one-vendor DRM system, and you succeed, you become the Most Powerful Man in that product category.. Much stronger incentives to get people on private label DRM.

  3. David Treadwell says:

    While it is certainly possible to rip DVD and BluRay discs, it requires obtaining and using software that is, due to the DMCA, of questionable legality. Thus, the major software providers will not make video ripping easy, which serves as a speedbump to widespread ripping. It seems that the industry is attempting to allow some additional uses of video content for their customers without losing this speedbump.

    I share the frustration regarding the impact of DRM on legitimate uses of content, but I can also see why the content folks are pursuing this.

  4. Richard says:

    “While it is certainly possible to rip DVD and BluRay discs, it requires obtaining and using software that is, due to the DMCA, of questionable legality.”

    But thanks to the USA trade dispute iwth Antigua – Antigua is officially allowed to break US IP laws by the WTO. So you can get anyDVD from Antigua and – thanks to the WTO it’s sort of ultimately legal…

  5. David Treadwell says:

    “So you can get anyDVD from Antigua and – thanks to the WTO it’s sort of ultimately legal…”

    That may be, but the core speedbump remains because it requires some time, expertise and money to get and use the software. That speedbump to make ripping harder is what the content folks seem to want to preserve in all of this.

    Contrast the difficulty of DVD/BluRay ripping with CD ripping. Any modern OS comes with software that will rip CDs with a few clicks of the mouse.

  6. Richard says:

    “It seems that the industry is attempting to allow some additional uses of video content for their customers without losing this speedbump.”

    Agreed, but of course the “official” mechanisms provided contain their own built in speedbump – which may be higher than the Slysoft option – and by all accounts AnyDVD is pretty straightforward to use.

    Also the height of the speedbumps provides a market for commercial pirates who will do the dirty work for you and simply deliver an unencumbered copy.

    I can see why the content providers think that what they are doing is a good idea – but I can’t agree with them. Trying to stop piracy with DRM is at best a King Cnut like activity…

  7. rp says:

    I think Richard’s point may be crucial in the long run. If the speed bumps are high enough, they guarantee a minimum market size for commercial pirates. Talk about unintended consequences.

  8. Steve R. says:

    As a result of an email exchange, it occurred to me that I had overlooked a fundamental issue with the NYT article concerning the “grand unified video DRM scheme intended to allow for video portability.” . That is that the companies implemented proprietary technologies to restrict content portability!!!

    Now we have a disingenuous article in the NYT saying how the companies now want to please their customers by developing a new unified standard to allow portability while neglecting to mention that there are existing video standards that would allow content portability. I hope that those attending the CES will expose this shame for what it is.