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August 15, 2007
How Hollywood Closed The "Analog Hole"
Never let it be said that the Cartel are stupid or don't learn. Hollywood looked at the history of CDs and first-generation DVDs and said "never again." Then they designed a system, called AACS, that would be embedded in every next-generation DVD and DVD player. The AACS requirements are strict and technical and were written by people who know a good deal about digital device architecture.
Ken Fisher has a thorough analysis of the problems that AACS DRM pose. He kicks off from Peter Gutmann's USENIX presentation, but goes much deeper. Gutman analyzed Windows Vista; Fisher contends that blaming Microsoft is beside the point. Apple will be doing precisely the same thing soon and next-generation DVDs will never play on Linux machines. Why? AACS.
Hollywood has locked up its content behind a technology and a set of extensive implementation requirements, then presented the world with a choice: do it our way and fuck fair use, or be denied access to all our movies now and forever into the future. This level of play-our-way-or-not-at-all makes SoundExchange's little blackmail venture seem downright homey by contrast.
The problems Fisher notes with this setup are in two categories: one is that implementing to the AACS standard consumes resources that commercial OSes should better spend elsewhere. In effect, the implementing company (whether it's Microsoft or Apple) is not free to allocate its development dollars in the way that maximizes things like OS security, customer satisfaction, or time-to-market. At least insofar as these conventional business goals conflict with the AACS requirements, good business loses.
Second, even once it's done it doesn't work. AACS is already cracked. As a secret standard developed by commercial self-interests, AACS was never subjected to the rigorous public peer review that validates important properties like integrity and trustworthiness. See Bruce Schneier's CRYPTO-GRAM list for extensive discussions of these issues. So billions of dollars are wasted on forced deployment of a broken system that benefits a tiny minority, costs the vast majority more money, and does little or nothing to stem illegal copying.
It's not clear to me is where we go from here. In under a year we'll have Macs and Vistas playing next-gen DVDs. All new movies will come out on those disks - first probably in sual issue but soon exclusively on whichever of Blu-ray or HD-DVD wins. Consumers will be forced to upgrade their players if they want to play the new disks and maybe have to re-buy their first-generation DVDs (anyone remember re-buying LPs as CDs the first time around?) But AACS will still be cracked, movies will still appear on sharing networks, and illegal players will be written for Linux and other OSes as needed. What will the Cartel's response be? I have no idea.
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