Blu-ray managed copy: wait for the Cliff Notes

Believe it or not–and I almost don’t–the Advanced Access Content System License Authority (AACS-LA) began posting the final license agreements for the DRM system used on Blu-ray Discs on its Web site late Friday. Nearly five years in the making, the final agreements include a mandatory management-copy provision, under which most Blu-ray discs must permit copies to be made, albeit under carefully controlled conditions.

acms_logoThe agreements also require that AACS-compliant hardware devices be capable of detecting digital watermarks inserted into movies and other video content to block playback of pirated content (a big win, incidentally, for Verance, whose Cinavia watermark is the specified standard in the agreement).

Brace yourself before diving into the details, however. The final Content Participant Agreement (covering the studios and other content owners) weighs in at an un-dainty 263 pages.  The final Adopter Agreement (covering device makers) is a mere middleweight at 188 pages, including 86 pages of compliance rules.

There are five more contract documents to come.

I pity the mere mortals who will have to come to grips with all that legal verbiage simply to release a movie or put a Blu-ray drive in a laptop.

Best I can tell from a coursery perusal by my untrained legal eye, “mandatory” managed copy is indeed pretty mandatory on content owners, although there are some loopholes for small distributors and for cases where a distributor may not have all the necessary rights to allow copying.

Blu-ray managed copy will, however, require an online transaction of some sort to “authorize” the copying, a provision that will allow the studios to charge consumers for the right to make the copy. How much they charge is up to the studio, although that was clearly a subject of some dispute, as is clear from the paragraph below:

5.3.1 Pricing for Managed Copies shall be determined by Content Participant in its sole discretion, and Content Participant shall be entitled to establish different prices for Managed Copies made to different AACS Authorized Copying Methods, provided that, as between Managed Copies made available pursuant to the Mandatory MC Obligation but not with respect to any other Managed Copies, such differential pricing is for bona fide commercial reasons and not for the purpose of frustrating the intent of making Managed Copies available to all AACS Authorized Copying Methods.

The fact that the contract actually has to specify that a signatory can’t deliberately set out to subvert its purpose tells you all you need to know about why it took five years to negotiate.