At the Hadrian Hotel

At the Hadrian Hotel

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

DRM: Depressing Right Management

I just attended a depressing lunch-time talk by Doug Dixon. Doug is independent technology consultant, author, and speaker specializing in digital media who runs the Manifest Technology web site (where many of his talks and articles are archived). The talk covered some of the history of DRM and where the content industry wants to take it in the future.

I guess the thing that depressed me the most is where the content industry is headed with respect to DRM. Specifically, I'm talking about the content management features of AACS (the Advanced Access Content System). All HD DVD and Blu-ray discs will use AACS to control access to the contents of the disc. So, once you decide to take the plunge and go for one of these high definition formats, you will be at the mercy of AACS. Why do I say "at the mercy of" you might ask? Well, once you buy a player that supports AACS, you will have little control over how (or even if) your shiny new discs will be played. In addition, you will also loose control over how your old DVD discs are played as well (more on that later).

I won't go into all of the details from the talk here, but you can download the PDF of Doug's slides if you want more information. Here are some of the key points that bothered me:

  • All high definition content is protected by keys
  • Keys can be revoked at any time
  • You (a given content provider) don't have to own the key you're revoking
  • All players must "phone home" regularly in order to continue playing content
  • AACS-enabled players must stop providing analog high definition output as of 12/2011
  • AACS-enabled players must stop providing any analog output as of 12/2013

That last one is the real kicker for me. It means that as of 12/2013, I will no longer be allowed to play my old DVD discs on TVs with NTSC Composite (the yellow plug), S-Video, or Component Video inputs unless I keep an old DVD player around. I will only be allowed to play them over a HDMI link. "So what?" I hear you say, "All of your A/V gear will have HDMI by then." Well, maybe it will and maybe it won't. That's not the point. The point is that I don't think anybody should have the right to tell me how I can or can't enjoy video (or audio) content that I already own. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur, but that's the way it is.

So, how can this type of enforced restriction be prevented? Unfortunately, in the USA at least, it probably can't. The regulators are pretty much in the pockets of the industry, and American consumers are sheep. Show us the new shiny thing and we (almost) all go along because it's cool. When it comes to digital media, the only ways to prevent further erosion of our rights is to either get the laws changed (that may be possible with the Democrats coming into power, but don't hold your breath) or to not buy these products (see my previous comment about sheep). Maybe the EFF can help, or maybe enough people will read Ed Felten's Freedom to Tinker blog and decide to do something about, or maybe not.

Sigh... This is all so depressing....

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