Summary: DRM can be a good thing. Unfortunately, the way DRM has been handled by the industry has not been so good.
Digital Rights Management is a good thing. The problem is that the way digital rights management has been handled by the industry has not been so good. We have copy protection software that act just like malicious viruses and rootkits.
Defining the Problem
The industry needs to recognize that it'll be impossible to stop piracy. The more complex, innovative, or intricate the content protection system, the more interest and zeal crackers will have in subverting such protection. If the US was unable to keep nuclear weapons technology secret after WW2, there is no way the MPAA can ask consumer electronics companies to keep movies and music 100% secure, especially when the whole intent of music/movies is to be seen and heard.
The Fundamental Issue
The general public just doesn't appreciate the true value of intellectual property. You can list off a ton of famous actors and directors, but how many famous screenwriters (who aren't directors or actors) can you name?
The problem with DRM is that it hasn't been done correctly to date. Every implementation of DRM has only hurt honest users. More frustrating is that HDCP should have been the first to prove that DRM could be done in a reasonable manner.
The original idea of HDCP was to stop casual copying of high-definition uncompressed digital video. Since the decryption/encryption had to be done in real-time, the goal was to make the algorithm simple. The fact that HDCP has been demonstrated by computer science researchers to be easily compromised provided that a handful of keys are leaked isn’t an issue. However, HDCP itself remains secure because its security is tied into licensing.
You can't buy the HDCP keys unless you agree not to use it in a recording device. The keys themselves are located in hardware, making it more difficult for casual users to crack. Movie studios were saying "we won't release digital HD content unless you electronics manufacturers guarantee that you won't build digital recording devices." The crypto ROMs, etc. were just ways to make this gentlemen's agreement formal.
In exchange for this gentlemen's agreement, enforced by relatively low-cost crypto ROMs, consumers should have been able to transparently enjoy HD content. Yes, early adopters of televisions would have to buy new TVs, but with HDCP, "advance warning" was available. Figuring out how to transcode content to portable players or other formats (i.e. a desktop PC or media server) would have been something to be addressed in the future (ultimately resulting in AACS and BD+). Remember, HDCP was simply intended to limit the creation of a high-definition VCR capable of recording “protected” content.
What ended up happening was that the graphics board manufacturers betrayed our trust, HDCP handshake protocols have been poorly implemented, and HDCP ended up being far from that “seamless” integration.
"Perfect DRM" already exists today. Perfect from both the perspective of consumers and the industry.
It's called the printed book. As big as the video game industry is, the book industry is bigger. Last year, Barnes & Nobles, Borders, and Amazon pulled in $11.5 billion in terms of book sales (this isn't including sales of coffee or non-book items in these stores). Add in the sales of Wal-Mart, Target, and local independent retailers and you'll have to agree that it's still a big market even in today’s age.
Go to any Barnes and Nobles and you'll see a ton of people reading for free. Someone might walk into a B&N, pick up a magazine and read it cover to cover, or even pick up a self-help book, and read it while taking notes on a separate sheet of paper. Sometimes, you might actually buy a book when you want to enjoy re-reading the material at home, or if you want it as part of your collection. Books are cheap. Hardcover books are more expensive than paperbacks; and art books may be the most expensive of them all but the print quality and binding makes it all worth it.
Casual copying is possible but not easy. There's nothing stopping me from photocopying a whole book cover-to-cover, but very few of us have stacks upon stacks of copied books. It's too inconvenient to copy something when it's cheap enough to buy. Likewise, everyone has taken a class or two where the professor hands out a photocopied textbook chapter, recognizing that students are unlikely to find value from the rest of the textbook or beyond the term.
If a book publisher thought like the movie industry and wanted to prevent casual copying of a book, they would have made every page black text on a red background. It'd be so hard to read and intrusive that no one would ever buy a book again.
Finally, all of us can name plenty of famous authors. We recognize the effort and time an author has put into his work and may purchase a book in order to support an author in the hopes of seeing a sequel, even if only in theme.
The Difference Between Books and Movies
In some ways, the HD ecosystem is going to buy time to help DRM reach that magic steady state that we enjoy with books. With HD movies requiring huge amounts of space, there's already a barrier to casual copying if only for HDD space issues. The HD-DVD rips that have been unleashed onto the Internet still represents gigabytes and gigabytes of storage. As bandwidth and HDD space increases, technologies such as BD+ potentially will maintain sufficient copy protection to prevent casual copying while still ensuring that the optical disc is a) not counterfeit and b) can be used for managed copy (allowing you to transcode the content to portable players). Potentially being the key phrase – the industry has had rough enough start with HDCP.
People buy more DVDs than music CDs because they see it as a better value. Fortunately, HD content remains aggressively priced. Although Blu-Ray and HD-DVD products are more expensive than DVD products, prices will see more parity as production ramps up and more consumers transition to HD. DVD players launched at $1000 (FiringSquad’s retired Editor-in-Chief Kenn Hwang spent that much on his Sony DVP-S7000) and by 2009 there will be no more analog TV in the United States.
I'm even hopeful about Hollywood increasing the visibility of screenwriters in the industry. As movies like Fight Club and TV shows like 24 and Heroes continue to push the envelope of storytelling and captivate an increasingly sophisticated audience, writers are increasingly forced to write more sophisticated movies. A screenplay from a 1990's Van Damme movie wouldn't fly today. Would any movie which uses "it was just a dream" as a plot device work today? Only if it's told like A Beautiful Mind. The elite group of screenwriters who are capable of writing such movies is relatively small, and that is good news because it means Hollywood only needs to spend a lot of money on a few number of people. So if anyone you know is a creative executive at a studio, debate with them why stories like Thank You For Smoking, Good Will Hunting, Napoleon Dynamite, Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Nemo or God forbid, Titanic were more successful than Stealth, Lady in the Water, Basic Instinct 2, Poseidon, and Flushed Away...
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