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DRM debate spins more buzz

Posted: 18 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital rights management? DRM debate? content copyright?

The battle over digital rights management (DRM) resumed at the Embedded Systems Conference when a Hollywood studio proponent of DRM went head-to-head with an attorney who demanded unfettered consumer rights to use and share copyrighted video.

The most provocative statement was offered by Fred von Lohmann, senior IP attorney for the Electronic Frontier Association. Discussing the problem of allowing consumers to "interoperate" a DVD among different devices, including multiple TVs, computers and mobile phones, von Lohmann responded, "Don't be fooled. The only reason we don't have interoperability is because of DRM."

Von Lohmann was expressing a widely held view among content providers and distributors that DRM restrictions serve neither to protect artists from IP piracy nor consumers from chaos in the content market, but to preserve the movie industry's "old business models."

Jim Barton, CTO and senior VP of R&D for TiVo, referred Hollywood's zeal for restrictions in "fair use" of video content as "DRM overkill." EE Times editor-in-chief Junko Yoshida noted that IP issues tend to be framed "from the point of view of those who own the content." They seem determined, she said, to build "a gate every step of the way, so they will have a certain revenue coming in."

Drawing the line
Dean Garfield, executive VP and chief strategy officer for the Motion Picture Association of America, said Hollywood has repeatedly confounded predictions of its demise by adapting to the new forms of recording media, from VHS to Blu-ray DVD, by finding ways to make money from all distribution channels. But he said the studios have always kept consumers in mind. "There's a healthy and complete respect for fair use [by consumers] within the motion picture industry," he insisted. "We talk about ways of enabling it all the time."

Garfield drew a fine distinction between the various DRM technologies that have been tried to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted video, and compared them to the security barriers faced by bank customers using automatic teller machines. He said, "They don't care about the ATM."

Customers gladly put up with the necessity of passwords to get their money, just as DVD buyers accept constraints, such as watermarks and copy restrictions, placed on the media they purchase. "It's not the technology," he said, "it's business rules around DRM" that irritate and anger both consumers and IP attorneys.

"Of course they don't mind the password at the ATM," replied von Lohmann. "What I would mind is a set of restrictions on what I can do with my money after I've received it from the bank." He said that such constraints are the essence of DRM.

Closing the gap
TiVo's Barton supported von Lohmann's point by noting that the movie industry imposes a 30-day limitation on use for a DVD rented, for example, from After 30 days, the DVD erases itself. Similarly, once a consumer begins viewing this DVD, he cannot pause and resume viewing two days later. It will erase within 24 hours. Such are the "business rules" embedded in content by DRM technologies.

"We have to play by those rules," Barton said, "but it's not always an easy model. We walk a fine line between pleasing the consumer and making available on that device all the things they want to use."

"There will always be a gap between what consumers want and when the technologies can step up and be able to do that," said Michael Ayers, senior attorney for Toshiba America Information Systems. Prominent among these "gap technologies" are DRM methods that protect studio revenue while freeing consumers to view movies unrestricted on various devices and share them with others.

Garfield said Hollywood recognizes that gap and is working to close it. He said the studios' approach to DRM is "evolving and adapting to make legitimate alternatives available to them [consumers] that meet their needs." In the meantime, security is necessary. He challenged von Lohmann by asking if he favors any sort of video content protection at all.

"The answer is: No!" von Lohmann shot back. He contended that the vast majority of consumers are willing to pay for content as long as the quality and features Hollywood offers are "better than free." He said, "Most people are honest."

He added, "If you got rid of DRM on all DVDs tomorrow, there would be no change in consumer behavior."

The panel was briefly interrupted when moderator and EE Times editor-at-large Rick Merritt became ill. Merritt later returned to the panel discussion.

- David Benjamin
EE Times

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