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Oh lordy, not more DRM

09/18/06 | by Adam | Categories: Copyright

Link: http://www.engadget.com/2006/09/16/embedded-rfid-to-smack-down-dvd-piracy/

One of my hot buttons is, and has been for a while, Digital Rights Management (aka DRM.) The main overall change is that the content (the music, movie or book) is no longer considered to be sold but merely licensed. The ability to then sell your copy (and associated license) is also being gutted with the slow move to electronic distribution.

People who've been around for a while know this in an earlier form as copy protection in software such as dongles, passcodes, overburning, bad blocks on disks (and discs), as well as other nefarious methods. Frankly, software licensing is where this all came from and when it comes to being restrictive the music and movie industries are very fast learners indeed.

On music CDs the music industry originally tried setting a read-only flag to prevent duplication which worked about as well as you can imagine. Since then they've added other approaches such as deliberately corrupting the data on the CD hoping that the error-correction on CD players would resolve the issue but computer CD and DVD-ROMs would not, or adding multisession indices with the later ones being bad with the expectation again that standalone CD players would ignore the later tables but computers would be hosed. All of these have failed so far even though some of them have had the bad habit of hanging my older Plextor CDRs forcing a reboot. Then there's Sony's infamous rootkit solution where software is surreptitiously installed on your computer to prevent any reading of the CD.

With newer technologies they're getting nastier still. Originally DVDs were "protected" using CSS. I say "protected" as CSS wasn't actually a copy-protection technique so much as a distribution/playback limitation device. Any CSS protected recording could be duplicated as much as wanted but couldn't be played back on any non-CSS enabled system. In addition on DVDs there was the region encoding that all players had to adhere to which prevented any DVD being played on a player that was set for somewhere else; please note that this is different from being encoded in a different format such as NTSC versus PAL. For example, Region 1 DVDs (North America) cannot be played on Region 2 players (Europe.) None of this prevented redistribution or copying but simply made it harder to use legally purchased material. The only legitimate argument I've yet heard for these variation is that due to the complexities of movie licensing, the move might not be legally covered in a different region. This strikes me as trying to resolve the wrong problem. Some manufacturers realised that Region 0 (Worldwide, or not region-specific) could play all available DVDs at which point the DVD-ROM makers changed their mastering slightly to fail on those too. It didn't take too long for CSS to fall by the wayside and most computer DVD-ROMs can be reset an indefinite amount of times to handle the region encoding, assuming that the DVDs aren't ripped to the harddrive or remastered to remove it. In the early days of DVDs, there was the self-destructing DIVX variation that included a built-in call-home approach requiring relicensing every time you wanted to watch a movie you'd bought.

With newer systems like HDMI, it's getting worse. The requirement here is that the copy protection is now to lock the user entirely out of the system. You no longer own your copy of the content (as was the case with earlier methods) and you barely have a license associated with your purchase. You also give up a fair amount of rights to your hardware too -- if not everything fits the copy protection specification, the content cannot be displayed or watched at all so good luck on choosing appropriate equipment. The licenses are now getting sufficiently vague that the content owner can reject your license to watch the content (remember, you don't own this any more) at any time for any reason and you're stuck with a five inch coaster.

The link above takes you to yet another variation. The argument here is that this protects the studios from being ripped off. Read the article and you'll see it's yet another variation of CSS and region encoding, but this time in hardware. It doesn't protect the property, it just restricts people's ability to use it in favour of the studio's international marketing arm.

I have to wonder at what point people are going to say "Enough is enough" and just stop buying this stuff. I'm all in favour of authors, artists and movie studios being paid for their labours but this is all getting a bit much. It's "Digital Rights Management" and those are your rights that are being managed into non-existence.


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