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More bad news about DRM

Once again, DRM is in the news and the news is bad. Very Bad.

AACS is the "Advanced Access Content System" set up by IMB, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, toshiba, Disney, and Warner Brothers. It is Digital Rights Management (DRM) for the next generation of content including high-definition optical discs. (For more see: Overview : AACS – Advanced Access Content System.) There has been a fair amount written about how Microsoft is embedding DRM/AACS technology into Windows and how hardware manufacturers are supporting it as well (see Strategy to Thwart Movie Copying Could Frustrate Innocent Users and How Windows Vista Will Affect Government Information and Microsoft Vista takes control). But this article in Ars Technica says that "…the bigger story here is the technical nightmare created by AACS and how its tentacles are reaching into the consumer technology we all use daily."

"The biggest trick the devil ever pulled was in getting folks to blame someone other than Hollywood for video DRM."
–not Keyser Soeze

AACS and DRM is not just about Microsoft and PCs and Windows. "Apple will also have to adopt a strict DRM regimen at the most fundamental levels of Mac OS X in order to be able to (legally) play back AACS-protected Blu-ray or HD DVD discs (e.g., most commercial discs in those formats)… The same would be true for Linux, except that AACS won’t be licensed for Linux desktop use. There’s no way to securely implement it since desktop Linux is an open environment, and AACS requires keeping secrets."

Government information does not exist in a vacuum. Any digital government information, whether packaged by the government itself or re-packaged by the private sector, will have to conform to standards that Hollywood is designing to protect content. This means that, potentially, some government information will be unavailable on some platforms (e.g., Linux) that refuse to conform to Hollywood DRM. It means that content that does conform to these standards will be locked by its constraints.

Users should be outraged at these developments, but directing that outrage at Microsoft (or Apple) misses the point. The movie industry’s fear of fair use and casual piracy is so great that it uses its considerable weight to influence innovation in personal computing. They can create a technology (AACS) and a license for that technology without ever having to prove its utility or safety for consumers. The situation is made more deplorable by the fact that AACS seems to be nothing more than a stab in the dark at the problem: it has already been cracked! AACS is unproven technology with amazingly complex demands. And it’s being rolled into operating systems essentially unproven and with little care for how much havoc it wreaks.

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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