Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Publication Date: 08/1/2007
Archive >  August 2007 Issue >  Tech Watch > 
DRM: Pirates Helped in Unplanned Ways

Whether content developers and content owners (consumers) realize it or not, we owe a big vote of thanks to the Doom9 yahoos. Not for the reason they think either. These are the self-righteous individuals who hacked the "bulletproof" AACS DRM (Digital Rights Management) code in the name of setting movies free.

Had they hacked it, passed it around amongst themselves things might not have changed. We'd still be saddled with an oppressive way of watching our store-bought movies!

But what good is it to hack something that is hack-proof if no one knows about it? They had to share their bragging rights. And they did with postings at Diggs, on t-shirts and everywhere they could find the opportunity to expose themselves.

You know that wasn't going to sit well with the protectors of human rights! They did what they get paid to do. They sent cease & desist letters to anyone, everyone who posted the elegant 32 digit code. And probably a few t-shirt silkscreeners as well. Great; another riot on the Web.

Creators Need Payment
Before we go any further let's emphasize that creative people need to be paid for their work — writers, artists, animators, actors, makeup artists, best boys, post production folks, underwriters and yes even studio execs.

The problem is the world doesn't want content protection. Consumers don't want content protection. Yeah we know you don't really want to pay for your content.

AACS's approach has been if you want a copy to watch on your TV — buy it. Want a copy to take to your cabin — buy it. Want a copy to occupy the kids while you drive to visit grandma — buy it. Want a copy in the family room and bedroom — buy it. This all sounds logical to Tellywood, but it sucks for consumers.

Tellywood knew a gentler, kinder security solution wasn't the answer. After all they tried CSS (Content Scrambling System). That sucker was busted before the ink was dry!

Funny thing was DVD took off like a rocket! In three years it shot past every PC/CE technology in consumer sales — ever. People snapped up players and burners in unbelievable numbers. Discs flew off the shelves. And a huge underground pirate industry grew.

Corrective Action
HighDef was Tellywood's opportunity to take corrective action. The new DRM was impressive — even to the pirates. Ok, not to the real pirates because they go to the source, keep their mouths shut, and keep a low profile.

But for Doom9ers? Crack it and spread the word. The fact that the 32-character sequence is useless is of no consequence. After all you need to write a complete program around it to start copying HD movie discs. The key only unlocks movies made before April.

So who benefited? If you said "the lawyers," you're right on. And oh yeah, the bragging rights folks. Sure they could have posted the movies on the Web so you could download them but a 2-hour HD DVD download over DSL takes about 3 days; by cable 18-19 hours; by fiber about 2.5 hours. Perhaps that's why people aren't jumping on that bandwagon, at least not yet.

Will it happen? Oh yeah, for sure. Just as soon as really big, really secure pipes are everywhere. Or just as soon as we can plan ahead enough to start downloading a movie at midnight so we can watch it the next night.

Real consumers just don't want this kind of hassle. All they want to do is watch their real world escape movies, their educational shows, their documentaries. People don't really want to be technology troubleshooters on top of their regular job, even if their regular job is in IT.

Early adopters (really smart techies) say all they want to do is buy their expensive HD DVD or BD player, their expensive HD DVD or BD burner — their high priced kinda good HD DVD or BD movies and watch the show.

So what was so great about the Doom9ers efforts and the AACS response? The kids showed the industry — content creators and the hardware/software folks — that the money-making AACS DRM was little better than CSS.

Fortunately the blue technology simply hasn't taken off, so the industry can make a course correction without incurring the wrath of millions of folks who laid out big bucks for their players and movie libraries.

And the better answers that are out there? One of the best, and most expensive, is watermarking (see Wikipedia). When you buy or rent the content it is coded do you. If it finds its way "into the channels", you're busted! There are a lot of technical and cost issues involved, so while it's a great idea, it will probably never emerge from the lab.

Tough New Rules
The beloved DVD CCA (Copy Control Association) decided that because they lost a court battle they would simply legislate their own solution. Want to enjoy your game or movie? Use a disc. No disc (their code)? You're outa luck! Tough bounce fella; go buy another copy.

The best solution and the one sanity should allow to emerge is Mandatory Managed Copy. Don't get your undies in a bunch; it only sounds restrictive. With Managed Copy you buy the disc and watch it. You can play it on your TV top player; send it around the house to watch everywhere; make a copy to take with you in the car to shut the kids up; take a copy on your next business flight. There is even a formula for secure copy electronic distribution when the pipes beef up or you become a lot more patient.

Gee — that works for content viewers and content owners! Of course the AACS counter will be that all of those devious consumers are going to knock-off copies and give them to their friends, neighbors, and family members? Some might.

But 99.9 percent of us will do exactly what we did with our VHS tapes and DVDs. You may like those folks but take the

time/trouble/expense of ripping 2-3 copies? Oh sure Doom9ers and a few acne-infected kids might do it to make a few bucks. But it will be awhile because the burners and recordable discs will be too expensive for at least another year.

As for consumers, all they want to do is buy or rent their movies and watch them where they want, how they want, when they want. By stirring up the waters with their hacking expertise around the AACS DRM before a gazillion HighDef players and discs were in the market, Doom9ers have made Tellywood and the PC/CE industry rethink their solution.

Managed Copy suddenly looks very appealing. If and when the gentler, kinder solution is implemented, the AACS lawyers will still be able to find work. They can turn on the pirates who quietly follow content producers who make the big bucks selling bootleg discs on the sidewalks, street corners and thru the mail.

For more information, contact: Marken Communications, 3375 Scott Blvd., #108, Santa Clara, CA 95054 408-986-0100 fax: 408-986-0162 E-mail: andy@markencom.com  

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