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Another milestone in the DRM wars (with update)
Posted by: Billy Hollis on Friday, February 16, 2007

According to this article, the copy protection for both HD and Blu-Ray movies has been broken. Apparently there is a master decryption key that works for both, and by snooping around in memory, a hacker found it.

I’ve worked in commercial software for much of my career, so I understand the psychology of those who want copy protection on their product. But I still don’t like copy protection. It has bitten me as a legitimate user too many times. I wasted a half hour on the line to Microsoft just two weeks ago to get Office 2007 activated, when I have two completely legitimate licenses.

I also have an iron-clad policy – I don’t buy music protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM). Period. No iTunes for me, nor the Urge competitor from Microsoft. I buy CDs and rip them, mostly, though one of my favorite bands (Porcupine Tree) sells unrestricted MP3 versions of some of their music, and I’ve bought that and it worked out well.

I was on an email thread a few weeks ago, in which several folks in the developer community were relating horror stories of being unable to use music they had paid for. Moving music from machine to machine is extremely chancy – well, if it were not, the copy protection wouldn’t be much use, would it? But some of us change machines all the time, or reformat our machines and reinstall everything because we need to upgrade an OS or make a fresh start after working with beta software.

So I can’t really use media that is restricted to a machine. I’ll have to invest ridiculous amounts of time getting it working on new systems. Even then, it’s almost guaranteed to be unavailable after a few years as I migrate from system to system. Somewhere along the way, a transition will fail, or I simply won’t invest the time to do it. Therefore, there’s no way I’m going to buy DRM protected music.

That reveals one of the downsides to copy protection that the content providers and software vendors often don’t factor in. They see lost sales from pirates, but they should also take lost sales from copy protection into account. Plus the customer dissatisfaction that comes from being blocked from using a purchased or licensed product. Plus the risk of doing something really stupid in the pursuit of copy protection, as Sony did in late 2005.

The history of copy protection suggests that it’s close to useless anyway. I can’t think of a form of copy protection that has not been broken, so anyone who really wants to pirate software or content can do it. In fact, circumventing the copy protection on DVDs isn’t even illegal, though distributing the software to do it is. (A side thought: Imagine if the 2nd amendment were interpreted as “oh, you have a right to own a gun, but we can prohibit anyone from selling it to you.” Oh, dear, let’s not give them ideas.)

Bottom line: I think copy protection is usually a bad idea, but not because of some “information wants to be free” communitarian reason. I think it’s usually just bad business.

Update 4:24 PM CST

In the comments, meagain pointed out this related article:

Music DRM to disappear?

An extract:
Yahoo Music's general manager David Goldberg predicts that sales would increase some 15 to 20 percent, if songs were sold without digital-rights management (DRM).

...

Goldberg believes that most of Yahoo Music's catalog will be DRM-free by Christmas, according to the USA Today article.
One would hope. I think it would be a smart business move.
 
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I am not a geek or anything but I truelly think that after you pay for something it then belongs to you. You can not copy it to sell to people but you can copy it just becuase you own it.
 
Written By: SkyWatch
URL: http://
Billy;

All the usual arguments about DRM aside...

Rules:

1: System Security WILL eventually be broken by hackers, period.

2: The more of a pain security is to the legal users, the more help the hackers will have from legal users toward the goal of defeating the security.

3: Those who don’t understand that relationship, will see their business suffer as word gets out about how unusable the product is... and then get their stuff pirated, anwyay, pursuant to rule 1.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
Billy,

I’ve been waiting for you to start a thread like this (or related). I’m a sys admin (Winnt —> W2K —> W2003), and make my living using and suppporting a Windows network environment. However, I don’t do the programming skills that you do, and don’t have the in depth knowledge of Vista (and/or Longhorn?) that you most likely have.

So I’m curious - what are your thoughts on them? At some point soon our IT dept will have to make a recommendation and to a man (and woman) were against upgrading. It’s almost exclusively due to what Microsoft did in regards to DRM. From what I’ve read on it and it sounds like an unmitigated mess for the operating system. If you read Insty, he’s had two or three links discussing Vista, and it’s not been pretty. Are they the same for Longhorn?

Do you think the PR will be bad enough that Microsoft will have to make some serious changes regarding DRM (as it did with software registration a few years ago)? I could really use an expert opinion. Thanks.
 
Written By: Warrior Needs Food Badly
URL: http://
Bithead,

1) Amen!

2) Hallelujah!

3) Preach it brother!
 
Written By: Warrior Needs Food Badly
URL: http://
Skywatch, the basic problem is that in the world of content and software, which can be copied by end users, you don’t own what you buy except for owning the physical medium on which the content or software is placed. Instead, you have a license to use the content or software.

The license is a legal agreement and can have any terms that buyer and seller agree on. For example, a license could have terms that say you can only play a movie for, say, 10 days, and then you would no longer be legally allowed to play it, even though you still have the medium (disk or tape) the movie came on.

To put it in very conventional terms, buying a DVD of Forrest Gump can’t possibly mean that you own the movie. You only own a copy, and what you can legally do with that copy is determined by what license you hold to it.

Now, I agree that when I buy something, I want rights to it for the rest of my life. That includes the ability to make additional copies in case the original copy becomes non-functional. Therefore I try to restrict to software and content that allow that kind of "ownership" in their license.

That’s still quite practical in music. Less so in DVDs, because you have to use kind-of illegal software to do the copy. In software, it varies all over the place.

The more we let the content providers know our preferences, the more likely it is that their licenses will reflect our desires. The main way to do that is to only buy unrestricted content, and never, ever buy restricted content. As long as iTunes et.al. are making money by selling restricted content, the owners of the content are going to prefer that approach. After all, it’s not their time and inconvenience that results from copy protection - it’s ours.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
WNFB, I’m still looking at Vista’s DRM approach. I think some of the early rantings about it have been overblown. But I don’t like it, and I’ve let various people inside Microsoft know that.
Do you think the PR will be bad enough that Microsoft will have to make some serious changes regarding DRM (as it did with software registration a few years ago)?
As long as the bad PR is coming from the Microsoft-can’t-do-anything-right crowd, then there will be no impact on Microsoft. But if the bad PR results in customers, particularly corporate customers, getting upset, then there will be changes.

The vast bulk of Microsoft’s money comes from corporate customers, not home-based end-users. So that’s were the pressure has got to come from.

I use Vista, and I brought over all my ripped music (about 8 Gig worth) and have had zero problems with it. Any content that does not have DRM is not a problem on Vista, as best as I can tell.

So I don’t see the DRM stuff as a reason not to use Vista for most people. The ones who claim the DRM somehow makes the OS unstable or unacceptable have it wrong, I think. If DRM software causes issues outside the DRM space, then that’s a bug, and we can be pretty assured that Microsoft will fix that.

I hope they change their DRM policies. If enough companies like yours let them know that DRM is preventing them from moving to Vista, then that greatly increases the likelihood that there will be changes. But I have not seen that kind of response among corporate users yet.

Most companies I talk to are taking a wait-and-see approach to Vista because (1) lot’s of people do that with every Microsoft product, to wait out the early bugs, (2) lots of companies don’t have the hardware base to run it effectively, and (3) there are not yet enough applications that depend on Vista to force it from the application side.

All three of those conditions will change with time. If, as I suspect, we start to see applications in a year or two on Vista that go beyond what you can do with XP, then I think the DRM issue will fade.

On Longhorn Server, I have not seen anything yet that speaks to the DRM issues of Vista.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Don’t conflate all digital content with software, Billy, because different standards apply. There’s no licensing involved with the purchase or use of a DVD or CD. You own the physical media -and- the copy of the data contained therein, and what you can or can’t do with it is determined by law and legal precedent and -not- by any license. That’s why the doctrine of first sale -explicitly- protects your right as the purchaser of copyrighted material to resell your copy:

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=210&invol=339

(which is why you don’t see the cops kicking down the door of your local used book or record store). The penalties for piracy, likewise, come from other existing laws (including the original Copyright act, the DMCA, etc), and again not from the violation of any non-existent "license". Even the DMCA doesn’t say "You can’t make a backup copy": It just says you can’t circumvent any form of copy protection to do so, or possess, make, or sell any device or software that can. Rather like Shylock being told he can have his pound of flesh- but that he has to get it without removing any skin or blood in the process.

Software licensing is an entirely separate issue, and even there the copyright act specifically:

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#117

allows for the creation of a backup copy for archival purposes, again creating a conflict with the DMCA’s No Circumvention standard. EULAs, frankly, are a grey area because while some courts recognize them as valid and legally binding licenses, not all do. It depends on the state you’re in and the judge you get to hear a given case, unless and until they get around to passing UCITA.

So actually in many jurisdictions the courts have affirmed that you -do- own what you buy, and that software licenses aren’t legally binding (although that doesn’t mean you can copy indiscriminately, just that you have the same rights to make a backup copy and resell your software as you do a book, CD, or DVD).

With all that said, I’ll agree with your concluding statement: never, ever by buy restricted content.
 
Written By: Lysenko
URL: http://
Oh, and on the 2nd Amendment issue: It’s just a matter of time before -someone- gets the bright idea to do something like that. My money’s on a law banning the production, sale, or possession of ammunition. I can hear the arguments now "It says "keep and bear arms! Ammunition is obviously not the same thing as "arms"!"
 
Written By: Lysenko
URL: http://
Lysenko, I thought there was an implicit license on DVDs and CDs. Perhaps I was confusing that with the case law that governs their use.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
Billy - just saw this article and thought you might be interested...

Music DRM to disappear?
Published: 2007-02-14

http://www.securityfocus.com/brief/435
 
Written By: meagain
URL: http://
A thought occurs, as regards the ’rules/laws I posted:


Clearly, these rules take their queues from other basic laws in the real world… basic laws which, not surprisingly the social left has been doing it’s level best to ignore for years… laws of economics, of human social interaction, and so on.

Do you suppose that the music companies being based in that Liberal Bastian, southern California, or the software companies, one in particular, being based in left-leaning Seattle, has anything to do with their pursuit of trying to rewrite these laws by means of government, and calling it ’DRM’?
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://
Do you suppose that the music companies being based in that Liberal Bastian, southern California, or the software companies, one in particular, being based in left-leaning Seattle, has anything to do with their pursuit of trying to rewrite these laws by means of government, and calling it ’DRM’?
I wouldn’t go that far. Adam Smith said:
“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
I think DRM, insofar as the content providers get laws to require it, is just another example of that.

I’ll admit this: those folks in Seattle are so left-leaning I don’t know how they keep their balance when they ski.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://

 
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