[B]Never mind for ease i have posted the entire article[/B]
What the studios really seem to have in store for us
This is not a joke; I wish it were
by Dan Ramer
WEDNESDAY, May 18, 2005
On April 1st, I published a tongue-in-cheek satirical Viewpoint describing what content protection techniques we might expect the studios to impose when high-definition DVDs are introduced later this year. I had no idea when I wrote the piece how close my imaginings would come to the truth. And I had no idea that what’s coming is even more utterly absurd.
There has been much written recently about Sony and Toshiba participating in ongoing unification talks. Some sites reported that the Blu-ray Disc structure and HD-DVD’s encryption and data structures were the basis of an agreement, only to have the negotiation participants deny the story. On May 10th, Toshiba announced a 45 GB, three-layer version of HD-DVD that was quickly embraced by Paramount and Warner. This would seem to negate Blu-ray Disc’s 50 GB capacity advantage. From the Blu-ray Disc camp seven days earlier, Panasonic announced that it will ã³´art operating a pilot production line for Blu-ray Disc replication and a technology center for creating Blu-ray Disc titles . . . at its Torrance disc manufacturing facility.ä ¼/p>
This is a lot of posturing for two camps that are supposed to be negotiating a truce, but all of this is moot until we learn whether or not the talks yield a unified format. This may not occur any time soon; there are reports that the talks have reached an impasse. Each side seems to be unable to compromise on the key feature of disc structure. What isn’t moot is the previous acceptance by both camps of Advanced Access Content System or AACS for the protection of the film industry’s intellectual property. An analysis paper published by a group called Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) caught my attention. It’s a detailed look at AACS and Cryptography Research Inc.'s (CRI) system called Self Protecting Digital Content or SPDC. ISE’s analysis recommends that CRI’s SPDC sitting on top of AACS is the best protection for HD discs. Now, what does that alphabet soup mean to us?
I read through the paper and shook my head in disbelief. There is a great deal of technobabble - each technology seems to develop its own vocabulary - but I’ll try to offer the highlights, as I understand them, in the simplest possible terms. Let me begin with AACS.
The most important feature of AACS is that information stored on high definition discs permits specific players or kinds of players to play the HD discs. This offers the studios the opportunity to revoke specific kinds of players’ permission to play titles released from point of discovery of a security compromise and onward. In other words, you buy a thousand dollar player, bring it home, fall in love with the wonderful images, and smile uncontrollably every time you fire up your home theater system. Then some very clever hacker figures out a way to disable or defeat the copy protection for your make and model of player - perhaps by replacing the player’s ROM chip that holds the firmware and offers conversion kits over the Internet. The studios get wind of it and they put that player on the revoked list. For every title released from that point forward, your player will not work. Congratulations, you now own a thousand dollar boat anchor.
AACS is capable of other nasty tricks. It can revoke a tile if the keys for that disc become known. It can revoke an individual player. Content will be watermarked, and illegal copies will be traceable to a player. There is network connectivity built into the AACS standard, implying CRM or content rights management operations. Yes, an Internet connection may be required after all.
So not only do we have the threat hanging over our heads of having to throw away billions of dollars of analog input only HD-ready displays if the studios don’t permit the inclusion of full resolution component video outputs on the new players, now we’re facing the threat of having to throw away an expensive player if that model is compromised by diligent hackers. I wonder how many players will eventually become inert bookends? I wonder how many millions more dollars the studios expect us to sacrifice on their alters of protective excesses.
Like it so far? You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. SPDC provides the means to revoke a player’s ability to play all titles, even those that were released before the player was compromised. SPDC has the ability to create traceable content, should either a single player or a group of players be compromised. So if pirates manage to break the encryption on his copy of your beloved high definition disc of Revenge of the Sith , you could suddenly find yourself with a disc that no longer plays. The players accept updated revocation information from each new disc played and store that information in memory that isn’t affected by powering the player down (non-volatile memory). This system also has the ability to reduce output quality (image constraint) and can literally modify your player’s firmware. Very scary.
To its credit, SPDC provides for the ã¯¢fuscationä ¯f the firmware that, if compromised, will trigger some or all of these draconian measures. So one could argue that the layering of SPDC on top of AACS makes it less likely that any of these unspeakable countermeasures will ever be executed. But you know as well as I do that as soon as the new high definition formats hit the market, there will be the unscrupulous and the mischievous launching their attacks. How long will it take before hackers provoke the victimization of the innocent? And how fair or reasonable is the studios’ intent to punish law-abiding home theater enthusiasts because of the acts of a few sociopaths?
DVD has become a financial bonanza for the film industry. And the studios have the opportunity to sell all their titles all over again in high definition form. But if the studios insist on abusing their best customers, the backlash will cripple the format and the studios will have thrown away billions of dollars in income. Are you listening MPAA? Are you listening motion picture studios? You must make the honest consumer happy. That is your first priority if you expect HD-DVD or Blu-ray Disc or some hybrid to become your next cash cow. Sue the criminals. Close down illegal file sharing. Work with the State Department and Congress to apply economic sanctions on foreign countries that do not support and protect international copyrights. But leave the innocent alone.
Three things may help mitigate this nonsense and potentially avoid the high definition disc market from imploding, taking the HDTV transition with it. First, if we’re truly going to be stuck with these outrageous content protection schemes, the studios must put into place a no-cost-to-the-consumer disc replacement program to exchange revoked titles for the same film with new encryption keys. Second, the player manufacturers must put in place a no-cost-to-the-consumer ROM replacement program whenever one of its models is revoked. And third, full resolution, full bandwidth analog component video outputs must be included on the new players along with the HDCP-compliant HDMI or DVI digital outputs.
Sigh. I have a bad feeling about this