Tuesday, October 8, 2002

A couple of notes on that last post:

The situation with console video games is very similar. The games-- unless it is for the Nintendo-- ship on standard pieces of media that contain an ISO-9660 filesystem that is almost compliant.. The one key difference is that Sony, Microsoft, Sega [did -- doesn't now], etc... make the only reader for the media shipped for their particular system. As such, they use a copy protection that specifically breaks the standard-- for all intents and purposes a defect is introduced into the disk that can only be properly read on their custom/proprietary hardware (maybe not-- it may be able to be read on a normal computer cd/dvd drive -- just can't be written).

Something similar has arisen in computer games. The glass masters used to produce the copies of media for video games for the PC (and mac?) have been monkeyed with in a fashion that can be detected by, but not duplicated with, standard computer hardware.

Reminds me a lot of the copy protection used back in the Apple II days -- only, in that case, the software had direct access to the motors that moved the floppy head and spun the disk. As such, copy protection would typically involving making the drive do things that it was not designed to do!

Again-- the bottom line is simple: By moving away from a business model where you sell the end user a piece of media that contains everything necessary to consume the contents of that media and moving to a model that involves residual revenues in the forms of subscriptions or DRM style licensing over time, there is a whole hell of a lot more money and power at stake... and a whole hell of a lot less freedom of choice in the hands of the consumer.
10:14:51 AM    

DVD piracy

Aaron Swartz noted that it is possible to shove a DVD into a Macintosh, copy the various files to the hard drive, then play them back later without having the original DVD available.

Specifically, Aaaron notes that the DVD Player application included with Mac OS X allows one to play the contents of the DVD after it has been copied to the hard drive.

That shouldn't come as a surprise -- Macs with DVD writers have been shipping with DVD authoring software for some time. One of the necessary abilities of said software is to be able to play the contents of a DVD prior to it being written to a piece of [relatively expensive] media.

The original point of Aaron's post was in regards to DeCSS -- that the movie industry and other detractors have claimed that DeCSS enables digital copies of DVDs. Aaron also includes a note from Seth Schoen indicating that playback of a DVDs contents after copying to a hard drive should not be possible on CSS encrypted content.

The reasoning is somewhat flawed.

A DVD is nothing more than an ISO-9660 filesystem that happens to have its contents configured in a well defined fashion. Typically, that means there is a VIDEO_TS folder that contains a bunch of VOB files that contain the actual video/audio/DVD contents. (I only mention '/DVD' to imply that there is more information than just video/audio -- there can be annotation, multiple tracks, etc.)

The CSS encryption is applied to the video/audio/DVD content, not to the entire DVD filesystem. As such, if the video/audio/DVD content is encrypted, it will still be encrypted if you copy the VIDEO_TS folder and the enclosed VOB files to your hard drive.

In other words, it doesn't matter if Disney/Pixar shipped Monsters, INC. with CSS encryption or not. The Apple supplied DVD player contains a licensed key and therefore can happily decrypt the content regardless of whether it is still on the DVD or on your hard drive.

Coincidentally, I believe that a couple of major content producers have been releasing major titles without CSS encryption. This came up on /. in the last year, if I remember correctly (don't have a net connection at the moment, or I would post an URL).

Of course, this begs the question (and one that Aaron asks): Why would they release a DVD without CSS encryption?

CSS encryption cannot prevent the duplication of DVDs; if you use a piece of software like, say, Roxio's Toast to do a device copy of a DVD to another piece of DVD media, the resulting copy will be bit-for-bit identical with the original, including the encryption. The copy will play fine and with the full quality of the original.

So, CSS cannot prevent straight DVD duplication. This, of course, means that it can't prevent piracy involving mass duplication.

CSS doesn't prevent duplication of the filesystem contained on the DVD and sharing of said content via P2P (as an example) networks. Currently, the only thing preventing that is lack of bandwidth (really, lack of patience on the part of the consumer -- what does end up on the P2P networks is generally a low quality, highly compressed, encoding of just the movie part of the DVD -- none of the extras are included. Not exactly an acceptable viewing experience for a movie aficionado.)

What CSS discourages is the digital conversion of the DVD content into some other lower bandwidth form. However, that appears to have been circumvented if the huge quantity of spam advertising the ability to backup DVDs to Video-CD [CDR] is any indication.

Bottom line: CSS is pretty much useless these days. The whole DeCSS debacle is little more than a publicity stunt on the part of the MPAA / RIAA to gain support from Congress to push through laws that limit the consumer's rights when it comes to storing and playing back content in ways that the media giants don't necessarily like.

The battle isn't really about piracy. It is about control of the content delivery mechanism. If the media giants can lobby for legislation that effectively prevents anything but DRM based consumption of content, it would effectively provide those giants with total control of both content availability and delivery.

Specifically: such legislation would pave the way for a technology like DIVX (not the encoder/decoder, but the failed rent-a-frisbee style content delivery model pushed forth by Circuit City and others) to become the standard. When such technology exists, the move can be made from the "buy it once, you can own it/play it back for life" revenue model to the many times more profitable subscription model of content delivery.

Furthermore, the development of the infrastructure necessary to manage and deliver said content will be so expensive to construct and maintain that only the big media companies will be able to afford to do so. As such, they can further control participation within said markets because it will be prohibitively expensive to push content out through such distribution channels without "making a deal with the devil", so to speak.

If the big players were interested in stopping piracy, you would see busts of piracy rings within the US borders. Yet, you don't. And, yet, I can walk down the streets of NYC and pick up basically any movie that has had a release date announced for $5 on DVD. These are not copies made on some home computer in the manner Aaron describes -- these are massed produced copies in crappy cases with full color (poorly printed, but full color) jackets.

There are two ways to stop this kind of piracy. Go after it directly -- clearly, something that the media companies and, frankly, the FBI / Government have zero interest in doing (or else the vendors wouldn't be so blatantly obvious).

The much more attractive alternative is to make it impossible to BUY content. If everything can be placed under a DRM style system that effectively makes media consumption/playback a subscription or micro-payment style effort, the profit potential is huge-- way beyond the current business model-- while also putting a stop to piracy in its traditional form (there will always be piracy of content).

A one time payment happens once... residual revenue is forever.
9:36:40 AM