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DRM vs. fair use, and why you're caught in the crossfire....On Windows Vista, DRM, and new monitors

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AfterDawn Addict

27 Dec 2005 9:06 PM
DRM vs. fair use, and why you're caught in the crossfire

12/27/2005 3:58:29 PM, by Anders Bylund

If Black Friday and Cyber Monday didn't sate your shopping hunger this holiday season, Wired Magazine can think of one more reason to go on a consumer electronics shopping spree, and soon: "2005 might be the last good year to get gizmos that aren't locked down." They are, of course, referring to the ongoing efforts by the RIAA and the MPAA to plug every last leak in their safeguards against unauthorized use and copying of their precious content. For fear of lawsuits or in anticipation of coming legislation, our gadgets are dropping consumer-friendly features—like copying media off of a ReplayTV box or ripping backups of retail CDs—at an alarming pace. We're right in the middle of a paradigm shift for the entertainment industry, and the big players are responding to the changes the only way they know how, which is to tighten their grubby little fists around what they consider their greatest treasures. If you buy Neil Diamond's 12 Songs, Sony BMG wants to tell you how and where you can play it, if at all.

Clearly, Sony has come a long way since defending fair use rights all the way to the Supreme Court in 1979. One might expect Sony and its peers to leaf through the history books and learn from changes past. The VCR was hardly the death of the movie industry. Rather, it became a new and impressive revenue source, and the same thing happened with cassette tapes. The occasional sale that was lost to people taping movies off of broadcast TV was more than offset by the burgeoning rental industry, and the recording function just widened the reach of prerecorded tapes as the machine turned out to have multiple uses.

So how different is the situation today? One could argue that since digital copies are perfect, and can be made in mass quantities at low cost, we're not dealing with the rights of the individual customer making better use of their resources, but with the mass duplication and unauthorized distribution of pirated material, of which the producers don't get a cut. That's how the issue is presented to the courts and to various government branches. But the issue really isn't about copyright, it's about cold, hard cash, and Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Fred von Lohmann puts it rather succinctly:

"Consumers need to ask themselves, 'Who are these features are being built for: me or Hollywood?'"

You wouldn't think it odd to pay twice for Batman Begins today, would you? Ten bucks at the theater, and another sixteen or so for the DVD. That's the spirit! Then let's charge for it a couple more times: PSP maybe, and the enhanced HD DVD version, not to mention the streamed online delivery sometime in the murky future. Then there's first-run syndication through Showtime and HBO, and a couple of years later, the second run through CBS or Fox. None of these income streams would keep flowing if we could just pay for the content once and use it in whatever manner we choose to.

You can see why the studios are a little jumpy, perhaps. They need Congress to protect their business model by passing laws that protect the multiple payments each movie or song is supposed to bring in, in their view. But the important thing to note is that the laws under proposal go beyond protecting the double-dipping, and into extending it. Laws such as the DMCA will make it possible for the movie studios to charge us extra money for "managed copies" of next-gen DVDs we buy, when we should be free to make digital copies for personal use for free. These kinds of anti-consumer laws are being justified by appeals to piracy, but the real interest is in nickels and dimes.

But before you take Wired's advice and head out shopping, keep a few things in mind. Nothing you can buy today can get you around the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions if you live in the US, and that means that we're left with bupkis for legal options for handling DVD content. Furthermore, rushing out to buy new electronics could mean you're left with a dud, because by the looks of it, the next-generation optical video formats will have protection built-in such that non-compliant video pathways and displays could result in media failing to play, or playing at lesser quality (see Ken's story on how this will work in Windows, but note that Windows won't be the only OS affected by this). The moral of the story is that if you're sick and tired of this garbage, heading out to buy more products won't send a message, and it won't necessarily solve any problems for you. Your best bet is to vote with your wallet, and speak to your representatives.
AfterDawn Addict

27 Dec 2005 9:07 PM
a must read

On Windows Vista, DRM, and new monitors

By Ken "Caesar" Fisher

Sunday, August 21, 2005

One of the more touchy subjects crowding my inbox lately relates to how Windows Vista will fail to render High Definition video in "pure" High Definition on most existing monitors. There's quite a bit of hemming and hawing over the probability that Windows Vista users will have to buy new monitors to see HD content. Let's get a few facts out on the table before we oil our rags and tie them to our spears, because there's a considerable amount of misinformation out there.

First of all, High Definition content is not what you get on a DVD today. Most DVDs are 480i (upsampled to 480p by many quality players), the same as broadcast TV (but without the distorted colors). HD content is essentially everything above the 480 lines: 720p, 1080i, and 1080p (the last one is currently rare).

With rare exception, right now there's only two ways you are watching commercial HD content legally (I'm not including BitTorrent or USENET in this example): you're either grabbing it from over-the-air (OTA) signals, or your cable/satellite provider is sending it to you, guarded by their set-top boxes. Let me point out the takeaway: the content is supposed to be secured. Video from the cable/satellite providers is encrypted and protected. The OTA content is not encrypted, but let's not forget that the broadcast flag was designed in order to add DRM controls to OTA transmissions. As far as the content industry is concerned, both channels of distribution need to be secured.

But there's a catch. The old adage that if you can see it, you can pirate it, sticks in the craw of the content industry. To make matters worse, DVI delivers high-quality, essentially perfect video. While great for us, it's also great for counterfeiters who can use DVI to get at a pristine video signal, regardless of DRM enforcement. This is the background to the birth of High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). Developed by Intel, the technology provides a two-part cryptographic scheme to control video transmission and delivery at the very end of the video display process. Technically speaking, HDCP is content protection, not copy protection. Restrictions on time-shifting, copying, sharing, etc., will all be handled by the likes of cable/satellite boxes, DRM schemes, and the like. HDCP, in short, simply guarantees that whatever content restrictions are in place are enforced by authenticating both the transmitter and the receiver. (For more information, see this great article describing how this works in the 1.0 specification.)

The upshot of all of this is that display devices need HDCP support. If a monitor or television supports HDCP, HD content will be playable on that device (provided that it hasn't been cracked). If a monitor doesn't support HDCP, one of two things will happen at the discretion of the content providers. It's a possibility that a given studio may simply refuse to allow the content to be displayed at all. More likely, the studios will allow for playback on unauthenticated devices with purposely degraded quality. The thinking is that Joe Consumer will be more likely to pay for HD content than seek out pirated content that's not in HD. Talk around the industry suggests that many studios will degrade content to a 480p level by passing it through a constrictor, although we won't really know until products start shipping.

Now, HD DVD is already on board with HDCP (although HD DVD looks like it's dying), and Blu-ray is expected to follow suit, since HDCP is already supported by many high-end HD TVs now in the market. Those that doubt Blu-ray's eventual support for HDCP should keep in mind that the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) recently began touting itself as more secure than HD DVD, adding BD+ and ROM-Mark as a compliment to AACS. HDCP is a reality of the future market.

Where does that leave Microsoft? It leaves Microsoft in the same place it leaves everyone else in the consumer electronics industry. The company, which as you may know includes a Media Center amongst its products, obviously wants to be able to support the playback of true HD content, and this means that they have to support HDCP (and they will, across their entire OS line). Or, let me phrase this in another, more contentious way: if you think Apple is going to turn down HDCP despite being DRM advocates themselves (Hello, FairPlay!), with the result being that it will be impossible to view new content in full HD on Apple hardware, then you're kidding yourself. DRM in this context is unacceptable, in my opinion, but the studios (so far) are entitled to license their content however they want, and anyone who wants in the game will have to follow suit. This is the equilibrium that exists in the market today, and barring legislation to the contrary, it's going to stay that way.

Marcus Matthias, product manager of Windows Digital Media at Microsoft, informed me that Microsoft is committed to Windows offering all the benefits of consumer electronics devices, and this means fully supporting the specifications in play in the consumer electronics arena.

"Any device—whether it be a PC or consumer electronic device—will need to ensure compliance with the specified policies otherwise they risk being unable to access the next-gen DVD content. Clearly we think that offering next-gen DVD content on the PC is much preferable to having the PC excluded from accessing this premium content," he said.

Indeed, Microsoft doesn't really have a choice, and neither does Apple. In fact, if you've been following this game, you'd know that the only reason we're not already stuck in this quagmire is because PC DVD players were grandfathered in, and are exempt from upsampling rules.

So yes, Microsoft is a bit ahead of the curve on this, but that's partially because of their (very long) development cycle—we are talking about an OS that's at least 14 months away (my guess). And while PVP-OPM (Protected Video Path-Output Protection Management)—which provides a secure path from applications to HDCP output (techdoc in Word)—isn't entirely finalized, the general framework is a certainty.

Apple will be on board too, possibly with the release of Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5). Tiger saw the light of day in April, and with the company intending to release Leopard around the same time as Vista, that means that we'll be seeing HDCP support on the Mac (powered by Intel!) probably around the same time as the release of Windows Vista. And until then, we'll all be scratching our heads as to how our Linux friends will solve this quandary, because HDCP has to be commercially licensed. Well, that is unless DVD Jon swoops in again, but cracking BDA's discs won't be as simple as cracking CSS.

Finally, while we're all in lynch mode, let me add the last anti-hurrah. TVs without HDCP, also known as most TVs in North America, are subject to the exact same problem. In 2004, HDTV penetration in the US was estimated at 9 percent. Of those TVs, most of them do not support HDCP (although TVs sold today do, by and large). However, if you're heading out this weekend to drop US$3,000 on a TV, chances are high that it will support HDCP. The same can't be said of monitors, sadly. Apple's US$2999.99 30" display doesn't support HDCP, and only a handful of Dell's various options do. If you're in the market for a new display, you might want to wait until some units are shipping with HDCP support. You might think that you'll be able to buy an HDCP stripper, but there's a problem there. Once a stripper hits the (black or white) market, all a content provider needs to do is revoke the keys used by the device. It's not a solution. Between Blu-ray's BD+ and HDCPs key revocation, this next generation of tech is going to be considerably harder to crack.

The revolution will be televised, only it won't be in HD unless your pockets have paid for recent display technology designed with the future in mind.
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