The Media Center Show Delves into DRM (Highly Recommended)

the media center show logoI just finished listening to Ian’s latest Media Center Show podcast on DRM, and I’ve got to say it was very enlightening. Both Bob Weber of and Marcus Matthias, Project Manager at Microsoft, brought up some interesting points for discussion, but probably the most weighty piece of information came from Bob when he said that fair-use and copyright statutes will soon be trumped by contract law set by the content distributors that will dictate the terms of how consumers can use their digital media. And he also shed some light on how the industry creates environments, which he calls “packages,” where digital media and software are tied to certain products creating a beneficial/lucrative system for all parties involved (i.e. Apple iTunes FairPlay + iPod, Sony UMD + PSP). That’s probably the best explanation I’ve heard for there being no chance of an interoperable DRM standard seeing the light of day.

Other take aways include:

  • Microsoft will provide APIs when Windows Vista is released that will let third party software developers tap into protected PC hardware A/V paths. (That’s good to hear.)
  • Microsoft also intends to provide APIs for its DRM on non-Windows devices. Could this mean that Windows Media protected content will soon be playable on Linux machines?

But as you might have guessed, I’ve got a beef with two things Marcus said about interoperability and “flow” enabled by Microsoft’s DRM. One, is his use of the term interoperability. It’s slightly different than one many of us would consider interoperability. He explains it as Windows Vista being able to communicate and create protected environment paths with third party devices like a cable company’s set-top box or a cell provider’s mobile phone – most of us think interoperability means taking DRM protected content and being able to play it on variety of third party devices.

The other point of contention was with AACS, where he explains that theoretically (I added the term theoretically to aid his reluctant response) consumers will be able to have managed copies of next-gen DVDs and be able to stream them to various devices through Microsoft’s protected eco-system. So, if you take his “theoretically” and add Microsoft’s commitment to usage terms dictated by content companies, consumers may not have “flow” at all, but a bottleneck. Why? Because content companies will set the terms of how the media is used (note: I’m not inferring that this is Microsoft’s fault). Sure, managed copies as a function is enabled, but that doesn’t gaurantee consumer will be able to make a backup recording or even be able to stream the video to extenders if the distributor doesn’t allow it – the ball is truly in their court. That also got me to thinking… if next-gen DVD distributors can tap into people’s HD DVD players to disable playback if any kind of tampering is detected, how would the same safe-guards affect PC users? Will some or all of the PC’s physical media playback functionality be rendered useless unless you connect to Microsoft for a patch? It also makes you wonder if Microsoft has inadvertently created a back door for media companies to look for pirated material on ones computer.

And lastly, a little more on “flow.” If content distributors will be setting the terms on how users can play their content (remember via usage terms and contract law), then we will never have the ability to take high-quality versions of audio or video and transcode them into different formats for use on our other devices (i.e. portable video players, cellphones, handhelds, etc.) like we do today. That doesn’t sound like flow to me.

Filed in: Industry Buzz