Digital Rights Management is not about piracy

If you have a Tivo, iPod, or anything else that lets you view videos or listen to music on a digital player, you’ve run up against DRM.  You may not be aware of it but its there.  It’s what’s kept TivoToGo from working on non-windows PC’s until last month, when the encryption was finally cracked.  Its also what keeps you from taking the music you buy from the iTunes store and listening to it on anything but an ipod or in in the iTunes program.  Its generally a big pain in the ass for consumers.  But its there to protect the artists and producers from unscrupulous pirtaes, right?

Ken Fisher looks at the real point of Digital Rights Management technologies – and its all about protecting business models than fighting piracy. 

Like all lies, there comes a point when the gig is up; the ruse is busted. For the movie studios, it’s the moment they have to admit that it’s not the piracy that worries them, but business models which don’t squeeze every last cent out of customers.

The article was prompted by the Businesweek article, "Why Hollywood Snubbed Jobs at Macworld"

What does Hollywood want from Steve Jobs? For starters, more protection for their films. "His user rules just scare the heck out of us," one studio executive told me. Indeed, under Apple’s video iPod digital-rights-management scheme, folks can share their flicks with as many as three other iPod users.


Yahoo’s warning shot at iTunes?

Yahoo music is selling a music file as a plain vanilla MP3 file with no DRM.  Could this position them to compete against iTunes effectively?  Only if music available as a protected AAC file on iTunes is also purchasable as a plain MP3 file on Yahoo! Music.  From slashdot.  The rationale is on the Yahoo! music blog.

Our position is simple: DRM doesn’t add any value for the artist, label
(who are selling DRM-free music every day — the Compact Disc), or
consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies
who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology


Just say no to HDMI.

The Hollywood cartels may try to get hardware companies to put in DRM controls via HDMI with the promise not to use them for 7-8 years.

The effect is that if your
screen or recorder isn’t blessed by Hollywood, they can limit the video
they send to it to a low-resolution image. Manufacturers who want the
full signal have to enter into the HDMI license agreement and agree to
cripple their hardware in lots of ways — and have to promise not to
make their equipment compatible with anyone else’s, unless they, too,
agree to cripple their hardware.


Ah, the Irony

Via BoingBoing, I ran across this item, about how a supporter of the DMCA and DRM technologies found he couldn’t access 2 years worth of television programs on his own video recorder.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mr. Giovanetti’s work, he’s a
frequent and pugnacious commentator on intellectual property issues,
and an avowed supporter
of the DMCA and digital rights management technologies. He’s a frequent
critic of “IP skeptics” and “commonists” who argue that copyright
law–and the technological measures designed to protect copyright–have
gone overboard.

Today he discovered that sometimes, technological measures designed
to deter piracy are a pain in the ass for ordinary consumers–like him.

For those who don’t know, the DMCA is an overreaching piece of legislation that goes beyond protecting copyrights and actually limiting previously accepted Fair Use activites. DRM is technology that media companies want to put on every digital video or audio device (like your ipod) so that they can control where, when, and how you listen to music or view tv shows, even if you’ve already paid for them. You can learn more about the DMCA and DRM from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.


Slick Photo Albums

I sent my friend Nam-ho a link to the new release of Lightbox JS, a slick Javascript based way to overlay images on a webpage. As far as a javascript onlly solution, it could be an impressive method for displaying a slideshow. In response, Nam-ho sent me to SimpleViewer, a much slicker Flash-based solution for image slideshows. It doesn’t require much technical knowledge to put a SimpleViewer slideshow together, because it can plug into Picasa, iPhoto, Porta, and via kipi to a number of linux image management tools. There is also a php based web admin application to organize photos into albums. Finally, the data for the images used in an album is fed to the viewer via an XML data file.  It would be pretty straightforward to hook SimpleViewer up to a dynamic data source. To check out the results, I made two albums.

Some of my favorite pictures.

Simon, our beagle.


RIAA/MPAA are just middle men

A revelation hopefully more artists and creative professionals will come to is neatly summed up in this post from Powazek. We’ll only see more of them come to the same conclusions as they learn to fully harness the distribution models provided by the Internet.  Singers, Writers, Artists and all no longer need middlemen to market and sell their works around the world. I almost feel sorry to the MPAA representative sent to SXSW but then I remember who she works for.

And that’s really the problem, isn’t it? There are these industries of
middlemen – RIAA, MPAA – that claim to "protect artists" but what
they’re really protecting is themselves. Artists (and I include myself
in that word) need to rise up and tell these people to go get stuffed.
We can decide when a mashup is perfectly fine with us. We can decide to
embrace file traders to build awareness of our work. We don’t need you
anymore. You’re just holding us back.


Another Broadcast Flag Bill

The MPAA and RIAA are trying to get a variation of the broadcast flag passed again.  This sneaks in a lot of control that would stifle innovation and give the content mill owners a veto over new devices.  The full details and way to contact your representative are available on the EFF’s site: Stop the MPAA and RIAA’s Horror Triple Bill!


The unprotected analog outputs of computers will be, in perpetuity, restricted to either DRM-laden standards, or to a “constrained image”, “no more than 350,000 pixels”. Analog video which has been branded as “do not copy”, will last for only ninety minutes only in the digital world – and will be erased, literally frame by frame, megabyte by megabyte, from your PC, without your control. You’ll watch a two hour film, and as you watch the final half hour, the first few scenes will be being dissolved away by statute.


Mac support for TiVo coming

From PVRWire, who digs deep in the TiVo community boards comes news that better Mac support is coming for Tivo in 2006.


Have Tivo to Go on your PSP or iPod

Is TiVo trying to hitcho onto the iPod halo effect? According to gizmodo you’ll be able to move recorded shows from your tivo to your PSP or iPod. The current Windows-only method for getting shows off the Tivo onto a non-Windows device, involves stripping the DRM.

Testing of the software should happen in the next few weeks and all
TiVo users should have access to it by first quarter next year with a
one-time fee of between $15 and $30. TiVo also mentioned that it may
take up to to 2 hours to transfer the program.

This method probably adds in PSP or Apple friendly DRM, I suspect, so that you can’t play it on an unsanctioned device. But, if it is to be compatible with iPod, it’ll need to have a native Mac application – and don’t you know it but a few months ago Tivo was looking to hire an Apple developer. Will it be convenient enough to comepete with ABC/Apple (and other networks) schemes to distribute TV shows? I’m not sure it will be, you’ll still have to remember to have your TiVo record a program you want to watch, then wait for it to download to your PC and have it transcoded (resized) to play on your TiVo or PSP. But, you’re not restricted to only shows available on iTunes, for example, so for niche programming, like US Men’s World Cup qualifiers, it may be your only option.

According to PVRBlog, either TiVo and apple worked something out or the files will not have DRM.


MP3 Phones will be crippled

There was quite a discussion in my post asking Will your next music device be your cellphone?. The author of Communities Dominates Brands responded, and Sandy backed up my thoughts that it’ll be some time before a cell phone can replace your ipod/music player of choice. What I think is that it isn’t a question of technology – clearly cell phones are becoming tightly integrated, multi function devices. But was makes an MP3 player good, and the iPod really good, is the ease of use and the music catalog that is behind it. Big music companies aren’t going to release their songs as MP3s, they want formats restricted by Digital Rights Management that gives them the power to control how and when you play the songs you purchase. As long as the music catalogs aren’t available, or phones are restricted to 100 songs or some nonsense limit like that, then it won’t matter how many mp3/music capable phones are sold to the public even by next year. There won’t be much music to listen to on them.

Wired has an article on the Battle for the Soul of the MP3 Phone that is a much more thorough explanation of the forces at work. Some choice quotes, but really you should go read it and save me the trouble of copying and pasting the good parts here.

What should a music phone offer? The specs aren’t hard to figure out. For starters, it should have clearly marked Pause and Play buttons so as not to trip up people like Steve Jobs. It should sync quickly and easily with your computer, and you should be able to use it to buy music at a reasonable price. It should play music from iTunes or any other music service. You should be able to choose different amounts of memory, and whatever you decide on, it shouldn’t be constrained to 100 songs – or any other arbitrary limi

For a carrier, the whole point of putting music on a cell phone is to make money on data traffic from songs downloaded wirelessly. Carriers also like to make money handling the billing for those downloads. Yet the ROKR puts Apple’s iTunes in charge. The only way to load music onto the phone is to sync it with your computer; to buy new music, you have to access the iTunes store through your computer, bypassing the carrier’s network and billing service. Even worse from the carriers’ point of view, iTunes would compete with the music stores they themselves are setting up.

Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president of Nokia and head of its multimedia group, has bad news for the labels. In an impossibly sleek conference room at Nokia’s steel and glass headquarters in Espoo, a woodsy Helsinki suburb, Vanjoki is showing off the new N91, a 3G Symbian handset that will go on sale this winter. As a music phone, the N91 is everything the ROKR is not. It can hold a thousand songs or more. It has a rugged 4-gigabyte hard drive as well as Wi-Fi and a high-speed USB connection. “If you want to do file-sharing, this is also possible,” Vanjoki says. “Because this is not a mobile phone, it is a computer.