The Empire Strikes Back
The consortium known as the Blu-Ray Disk Association recently announced a multi-layer copy protection system.
Part of this system includes a protection system called AACS. AACS will also be used by the competing HD-DVD standard.
There is already some nonsense about AACS floating around:
1) You’ll have to have a “digital imprimatur” from some corporate entity for anything you record. This is simply not true. All the places that cite this are citing the specifications for pre-recorded video, while ignoring the separate specifications for recordable video.
You can find all the specifications for AACS by clicking on the link above, click on “Specifications” and click “I accept.”
2) You have to have an Internet connection to play an HD-DVD/Blu-ray This is also not true. The AACS specification has two modes, basic and enhanced. You can play legit DVDs all you like on a dumb DVD player, just like you can today, and there’s no need for an Internet connection.
Have a DVD recorder, though, and that’s likely to be a different story. An Internet connection will be required if anything you want to do needs to be done in “enhanced” mode. Like record. It doesn’t have to be on all the time, but it needs to be on when you’re doing something enhanced.
3) AACS will destroy your DVD device if you do something naughty. A more accurate and realistic description would be that AACS could change the firmware in a DVD device inoperative if hacked. Again, if what you’re doing is legit, there shouldn’t be a problem. In extreme cases (i.e., a rogue component maker who makes very easily hackable or already hacked devices), it’s possible that the whole manufacturing line could have its permissions revoked.
4) All this encryption stuff will screw up current DVDs This is not so. These new standards won’t affect current equipment and DVDs at all. All this applies to HD-standards only.
All this said, there’s no denying this is going to make copying a lot, lot harder than it’s been up to now.
Looking For An Honest Man
It’s going to be very difficult to get honest, accurate information about these standards for a number of reasons.
First, those making the standards are going to be very coy about the nastier aspects of their copy protection, and deeply downplay them.
Second, those reporting on the standards are almost entirely against any notion of copy protection, so most of what you see will be heavily biased, and, as we see already, often inaccurate.
The La-Di-Das and the Iraqeek Insurgents
Then we have those who are actually doing the copying. They’re split up between what I call the “La-Di-Das” and the “Iraqeek Insurgency.”
When I spoke about this subject a few days ago, most of the response essentially said, “La-di-da, what, me worry? La-di-da, somebody will crack this right away like everything else, and that will be the end to that, la-di-da.
Nothing in the world is going to convince the La-Di-Das otherwise until otherwise happens. Telling them that cracking this is levels of magnitude harder than anything in the past simply does not register, and will not register until the cracks don’t show up.
On one level, that’s dumb, but on another, what has been their experience in the computer world? To say that software makers have been terrible failures protecting their product would be gross overpraise. The Hollywood people have already been burned once by DeCSS.
Yes, one can rightfully say that a software-only solution is inherently insecure and breakable, but often, it’s not even hard to do.
If I were the Hollywood folks, I’d have none, zero, zilch faith in the geeks to deliver a secure product, given their track record. That’s probably why they’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink this time around.
Not saying there aren’t ways around it, but what is being suggested seems to have all the necessary elements for a secure system. The encryption is much tougher, the protection scheme isn’t self-contained so an outside party can check to see what’s going on, and finally the protection mechanism is revisable, so it won’t be “crack it once, crack it forever” as was the case for DeCSS.
Believe it or not, this is going to be a lot tougher to do, and if done, it won’t stay done.
In any event, provided the protection schemes stay sturdy, the “la-di-das” will turn into “WTFs” and the La-Di-Das will either give up or go over to the Iraqeek Insurgency.
I call it the Iraqeek Insurgency because the geek insurgents act just like the Iraqi insurgents. They jump and down a lot saying “No” to everything other than “We rule” and try to destroy (verbally or otherwise), anybody and anything that keeps them from doing anything they want. They have no alternative plan, they feel just as entitled to take anything they want in cyberspace as the Iraqi insurgents feel they’re entitled to rule Iraq.
The only real difference is that the Iraqi insurgents are rather more honest about the whole matter. Since “I have the right to steal” doesn’t sound good in polite company, the Iraqeeks instead lay down a layer of BS so thick that if you put it in a field, you’d have the most fertile farmland in the world.
There’s some with hidden agendas, generally those who think cyberspace should be a rather less capitalistic and more communistic environment than real space, but the vast majority are just situational anarchists who want to keep their free candy store.
Like any guerilla movement, the Iraqeeks try to force their opposition into nasty reprisals to get those in the middle on to their side, and there’s no doubt these protection schemes are a nasty reprisal. They will inconvenience people, they will cause technical problems, they will impose a good deal of overhead on processing media.
Things Are Going To Get Nasty
If you think the last few years have been nasty, you have no idea what nasty is. Hollywood sees DVDs now, and digital downloading later as their future, and they’re drawing a line in the sand now.
This is going to be war, the war that will decide what cyberspace is going to be like for the rest of our lives.
Hollywood thinks it will be fighting for its life, and it’s hard in the long run to disagree with them. The Iraqeeks are fighting for a way of life, this “sharing” culture.
And in the middle, the governments move a little slower than dead sloths. If there is anyone there who sees the picture clearly, there’s only two options to seriously fix the problem: mass arrests or technical prohibition. Guess which one government, any responsible government, is going to pick.
It’s going to get ugly, probably even violent here and there. I think Hollywood wins in the end, simply because you can’t have a world-wide thieves’ den. Most of those who oppose Hollywood will eventually cave, grudgingly, but the clean-up of the hardcore is going to be a mess, simply because it’s been left uncleaned for so long.