Douglas Crockford

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January 2007

AACS of Evil

The wily hacker muslix64 has written a Java program called BackupHDDVD which, it is claimed, can make copies of HD-DVD discs, using techniques similar to those employed in DeCSS. If this turns out to be true, then AACS, the DRM system which is supposed to prevent this behavior, can be said to have been broken. (AACS is used in both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.)

Except that AACS has a feature which allows for the deactivation of specific keys. If they can figure out what device was compromised, and if they can figure out how to get a System Renewability message to the device, then the device will stop working. But their ability to issue such codes is limited. If the hackers can break devices faster than AACS can renew, then it will be completely broken.

So what happens next? If I were a studio, I would be considering legal action against the AACS Licensing Administrator for when the doomsday scenario inevitably plays out. Since HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have not seen much adoption yet, the studios might demand that both be pulled from the market and replaced with a better DRM system. Except that there isn't a better DRM system. DRM cannot work in a world with general purpose computers.

So they may step up their efforts to eliminate general purpose computers. I pray that this effort fails too.

Combo on the gogogo

LG will show a combo player at CES next week. They will claim that it can play both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. They will further claim that if you buy this player, then you won't look like a stupid idiot when one of those formats fails. Unless they both fail.

The combo player will necessarily cost more than a dedicated player.

Historically, there have been successful combo players. The most successful was the multi-speed record player that could play CBS's 33 1/3 RPM LPs and RCA's compact 45s. That combo player allowed both formats to survive, each finding its own sweet spot: LPs for albums, and 45s for singles.

Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are both going after the same sweet spot, so the combo player provides no real value for the consumer. If it is successful, it provides a benefit to the Consumer Electronics and Content Industries because it makes a way around the failure of the standard setting process.

Terrorbite

At the Consumer Electronics Show this week, Hitachi will be showing their new terabyte hard drive. The Deskstar7K1000 will be packaged for consumer use, and will be priced at $399, or 40 cents per gigabyte. Storage of a CD's worth of data and music is about 20 cents.

At these capacities, does optical disc still make sense as a delivery medium? You can get a whole lot of network-delivered goodness onto one of these. The only thing standing in the way of legitimate use of these things for all media is the studios abandoning their DRM fantasies and instead embracing a future in which most replication and distribution costs go to zero. They need to get smarter about recognizing where the value is and how it is generated and delivered.

This drive makes you want to reconsider computer applications, too. With this much storage, you can imagine filesystems in which files are never deleted and files are never rewritten. The filesystem never forgets. Such systems could be much more reliable than the systems we use today which are based on the assumption that storage is a constrained resource.

Intel

Intel is a major force in Digital Media Technology, particularly in DRM systems. Intel's interest in media dates back at least as far as its acquisition of Digital Video Interactive technology from the RCA Sarnoff Laboratories in 1986.

Intel is involved in, and is usually among the founders of, several technology development and licensing groups including DVD Copy Control Association, Trusted Computing Group, Digital Transfer Licensing Authority (5C), 4C Entity, Digital Content Protection, LLC, Secure Digital Music Initiative, Open Mobile Alliance, Digital Living Network Alliance, Advanced Access Content System, Copy Protection Technology Working Group, and Broadcast Protection Discussion Group. All of these activities may be anti-competitive, but the government is currently tolerant, even encouraging. Intel has developed or is promoting many anti-consumer DRM technologies, including DTCP, CPRM, HDCP, DMAT, AACS, and the Broadcast Flag. There is tension between the creators and consumers of content. Intel wants to establish the middle ground, and so become the Center of the Universe.

These technologies are claimed to combat media piracy but will be ineffective. They will instead be effective in curtailing our Fair Use and First Sale rights. I think it is reckless for Intel to invest itself so deeply in anti-consumer technologies. The risk is that consumers could discover that they would be better served by products that do not have Intel inside.

Insanity Later

A copy of the HD-DVD of Serenity has shown up on BitTorrent.