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....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Wingles and the Wangles in the Land of Wonks (A Political Fable)

Last year, during the Frist Filibuster at Princeton University, Rush Holt came to speak and inspired me to write something. I don't claim to be a gifted writer, nor had I ever tried my had at fables before, but the following is what I came up with (mostly while I was mowing the lawn one day :-) ).

With the changing winds in Washington it may not be quite accurate any more, but I thought that I'd dust it off and trot it out anyway....

In a place not far from here, the land of Wonks was ruled by a representative form of government, not unlike our own. It had multiple branches with a system of checks and balances to keep any one group from gaining too much power, again, not unlike our own.

For quite some time, two political parties had run the government, with first one holding the majority and then the other. Naturally, the party that was in power wanted to remain in power for as long as they could, but those pesky checks and balances prevented any one party from taking complete and permanent control. Over time, power would swing back and forth, from one party to the other and back again. Their system of government had worked very well like this for hundreds of years.

Now, this being the land of Wonks, everybody had an opinion on how the government should be run and of those who ran it. Many Wonks thought that the Wangles were just a bit more clever than the Wingles, and, believe it or not, in this case the Wonks got it right!

Not so long ago, when those clever Wangles power was on the up-swing, they figured out how they could start making minor changes to the rules of government in order to further consolidate their control. Slowly, over a number of years, they would make one minor change after another, always making it sound like the change at hand could only improve the running of the government.

As I said before, in the land of Wonks, everybody had an opinion on running the government, but not many people did anything about it. One day, a small group of Wonks got together and decided that they would do something about it. They formed a new political party called the Bunglers, and despite their name, they were quite a clever bunch of smooth talkers.

In fact, the Bunglers were even a bit more clever than the Wangles, and had figured out how to take advantage of all the rule changes that the Wangles had been making. The party started out quite small, but soon grew in size and power. This being the land of Wonks, there were quite a few potential Bunglers out there.

Eventually, the Bunglers gained control of all the branches of the government, and managed to change the rules to their advantage in such a way that neither the Wingles nor the Wangles were ever able to regain control.

The moral of this story is: When things are going well, don't try to wangle yourself a better deal, or you just might bungle it.

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When Geek Conversation Go Bad

My buddy m0j0 wrote an amusing piece about the tendancy of geek conversation to go downhill, once the old timers (like me, I guess) get involved....

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