Excellent commentary on DVD 'piracy' issues

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From: Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Date: Wed Jan 05 2000 - 20:55:48 PST

[The Octopus isn't beautifully written, but it's a harrowing and
memorable novel of terror all the same... --Rohit]

>From: "David R. Guenette" <guenette@mediaone.net>
>To: "Dave Farber" <farber@cis.upenn.edu>
>Cc: <rsolomon@dsl.cis.upenn.edu>
>Subject: DVD mystery
>Date: Wed, 5 Jan 2000 11:48:11 -0500
>First, as to the technical merits of the various arguments regarding
>DVD copying methods, including how DVD-RAM and DVD-R/W work, a good
>starting place is the following URL, to what is still informally
>known as Robert's DVD Page: http://www.unik.no/~robert/hifi/dvd/.
>From this page one can find references and links to many relevant
>publications, including EMedia Professional, of which I am former
>editor, and articles by contributing editors Hugh Bennett, Dana
>Parker, and Bob Starrett, all of whom understand the technical
>issues as deeply as anyone, unless they've given up the field and
>turned to goat farming since my last contact. Replication News, a
>Miller Freeman monthly, is a trade magazine for the duplication and
>replication industry and can be useful; EE Times, published by CMP,
>offers the best, but only occasional coverage of the fundamental
>technology of DVD.
>Nonetheless, I believe that the issue about DVD and piracy is a red
>herring. Pirate labs have had a number of ways to duplicate
>DVD-Video, up to and including taking an original disc apart and
>making a master for stamping new ones from the pits and lands of the
>actual source disc; this "copy" would contain identical information,
>down to the hidden keys, and hence be perfectly playable. There are
>ways to do this digitally (find the right hidden sectors, and
>replicate the entire bit-for-bit disc image) as well.
>I have long held (as do most others in the field) that the security
>implementations imposed by the DVD Forum have little to do with
>foiling large-scale piracy and everything to do with discouraging
>individual copying. What the movie studios are most concerned with
>is that Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public will make a copy of a rented
>film, and therefore not rent it again, or, indeed, purchase it. The
>solution, the DVD Forum concluded, was to make copying difficult
>enough so that very few Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Publics will do it, and
>that doesn't involve making it impossible, but simply enough of a
>pain in the neck.
>The inclusion of Macrovision is one sign of this intent. DVD-Video
>itself, in its limited access output of the CSS (content scrambling
>system) circuitry, inhibits typical copying on PCs, since the signal
>is physically restricted through the playback card, making it a
>hassle to connect, for example, the DVD-Video signal within a PC to
>a hard drive. And, of course, if you don't record the key in your
>copy, you don't have a signal that can be played on DVD-Video
>players. There are PC system workarounds, but not many folk are
>likely to create custom cable taps, and then there are the problems
>of needing to get into the sector and bit levels of the disc
>structure, and not too many of us really enjoy hexadecimal editing.
>Even as most recently seen by DeCSS, there are other ways to do it,
>but the techniques are hardly ones the typical PC user will try,
>never mind succeed using.
>But what about DVD-to-VHS copying? In my opinion, this is much more
>of a home market threat, and the reason why Macrovision--a
>technology developed to make VHS copying difficult (by adding types
>of signal noise and quality reduction to the copy, if I understand
>the technology correctly). The reason is that the studios don't want
>people to copy movies, whether it is DVD-to-DVD (which is only now
>becoming possible, with the marketing of DVD-RAM, and DVD-R drives,
>but still very expensive), or, more to the point, DVD-to-VHS.
>Disney's outstanding reluctance (it was the last major studio to
>sign up for DVD) is telling: after all, how many parents have rented
>"The Little Mermaid" a half-dozen times, before buying a copy? I'd
>guess we're talking about hundreds of thousands, at least,
>multiplied by the X number of Disney films, and that is big money.
>The most interesting question is, perhaps, does Disney really have a
>right, morally speaking, to this big money? After all, if the studio
>is making a profit on theatrical releases, covering costs, paying
>its talent, marketing, etc., and then making money on rentals, and
>film sales, as well as covering bombs, just how much more should the
>public shell out for repeated viewing? At what point does the
>citizen earn (buy) the right to make or own a copy of the art
>itself, especially when the art form is inherently duplicable, and,
>indeed, is a distributable medium?
>And when it comes to home copying? Price the darn titles low enough
>and the studios would further expand their market, add profit, and
>reduce illegal copying to inconsequential levels. After all, how
>many people want to set up a dual disc drive/recorder configuration,
>buy the blank media, and spend the time recording the stuff, when
>they can simply buy the films, music, etc. they want to have, for a
>reasonable price. There are, of course, some really interesting
>digital rights management technologies coming to market, and these
>represent another type of solution. Please note that I'm not
>against protecting intellectual property; I'm against this
>protection being intrusive, clumsy, and too much in the interest of
>intellectual property holders at the undue expense of citizens.
>(Ask me what I think about CEO and sports franchise salary/profit
>I think that the larger issue is the copyright issue, and the
>balance between the public good (arguably, not having to pay $100
>for repeated rentals and purchase) and the property rights of the
>creators. The legal pendulum has clearly swung in favor of the
>property holder, and the corporate holder at that (200 years of
>copyright protection? Only corporations have that kind of lifetime).
>I think that it is a very good thing that the technology is
>well-positioned to return the situation to a more reasonable balance
>in a de facto manner. By the way, when it comes to large-scale
>pirating, there are existing legal enforcement mechanisms, and while
>these are no doubt somewhat inefficient, watchdog organizations such
>as SIIA, BSA, and the individual publishing companies themselves do
>have protection. Basically, the studios don't want to have to make
>the effort to protect their businesses from such threats, and are
>happy enough to inconvenient consumers with such things as regional
>coding and copy protection, in effect making everyone else do their
>The biggest problem may well be the greed of the studios (in the
>case of music and film) and the consumer electronics companies
>behind the players. Like CD, DVD represents both a great improvement
>of the reproduction and playback art, plus a realizable reduction in
>cost of goods and manufacture, both in terms of replicated discs and
>the players themselves. Yet CD-Audio titles remain, typically, in
>the mid-teens in price, and DVD-Video discs are as expensive or more
>expensive than VHS tapes, while DVD-Video players are much more
>expensive than VHS players. The strange thing about this is that DVD
>devices are cheaper and easier to manufacture than VHS players and
>tapes, since they are more digital (ICs, benefiting from the
>economics of silicon), and have no complicated transport mechanisms,
>and leverage the research and development and manufacture
>infrastructure of CD-Audio, a twenty-year-old, highly successful
>product. The discs themselves hold many of the same
>advantages--well-established manufacturing processes and facilities,
>inherently cheaper replication process (no linear duplication
>requirements that VHS demand), and even packaging, shipping, and
>handling is cheaper. But, wait, there's more! Whenever a new medium
>comes to market, content holders get to re-sell existing product in
>the new medium, usually at high margins, as music studios have done
>with LPs, CDs, and now threatening to do with DVD-Audio, while movie
>studios have moved from VHS to DVD.
>Unfortunately, the culture of the studios and electronics companies
>is to want their money now, as much as possible, to overcome
>investment and risk of development, manufacture, and marketing, and,
>in all likelihood, make the next quarter and the stock price look as
>good as possible. The irony is that their products are quite
>compelling and that they could be making more money by selling much
>more product (further reducing costs per product) at lower prices.
>DVD-Video could have been many-times more successful in terms of
>installed base, market penetration, and resale of already amortized
>content in the new media, if only these companies had believed in
>their own marketing message. In short, they are greedy, fairly
>stupid businessmen, who intentionally delayed the start of the DVD
>market by at least one year, or two, if you also count the delay
>caused by the jockeying for advantage in the format battle between
>the Philips/Sony axis and the Toshiba/Time Warner axis. One or two
>years of missed market seems like real money lost, but then, what do
>I know? I don't have an MBA.
>Ever read Frank Norris' The Octopus"? What the railroad was in the
>mid-to-late 19 century, media (including telecommunications and
>cable/satellite, etc.) is to late 20th-early 21rst century. I can
>only hope that the relative lack of entry barrier, will help even
>the match this time around. After all, it is much easier for
>electronic publishers to do their thing than for would-be
>railroaders to build competing railroads!
>David R. Guenette, Editorial Director
>New Millennium Publishing (http://www.nmpub.com)
>18 1/2 Tremont Street, Cambridge, MA 02139
> 617/868-6093 (voice/fax); guenette@mediaone.net

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