September, 2010

Too late for an early VOD window?

DRM One of the objections raised by opponents of the MPAA’s petition for a waiver of the FCC’s ban on selectable output controls when it was originally filed was that turning off analog outputs for movies in a new premium VOD window would “break” as many 25 million consumer devices that lacked digital connections. While “break” may have been overstating the case a bit — the non-HDCP compliant devices would continue to operate as they always had — and the 25 million figure was disputed, there’s no doubt that some significant number of households would not have been able to access the new service at any price, premium or otherwise.

The MPAA countered that allowing such “high-value” early release content to go over unprotected analog outputs was too risky, given the impact that piracy in an early window could have on downstream distribution channels, and that half a loaf was better than none. Why should no one be able to watch movies in the new window, they asked, just because some people can’t? Read More »

Warner Bros.: Never mind that HDCP hack

DRM The recently confirmed release of the HDCP master key does not seem to have deterred at least one studio from moving ahead with plans for an early, premium VOD window wedged between movies’ theatrical and Blu-ray  debuts. Speaking at a media investors conference in New York Thursday, Time Warner CFO John Martin confirmed that Warner Bros. will begin offering early release VOD films starting next year.

“The idea would be 30 or 60 days after a movie is released into the theaters, allowing an event VOD type of service offering for, I don’t know, $20, $30 for those people that maybe like me, have kids,” Martin said. “You don’t always have the flexibility to get out to the movie theaters. It’s an idea that we’ve been talking about and we’re likely going to experiment with, perhaps as early as sometime the beginning of next year.” Read More »

Conscripting ISPs into the piracy fight going global

Update: This post has been edited to correct errors in the original regarding the French HADOPI procedures.

Copyright Lots of action around file-sharing on both sides of the Atlantic this week, all of it adding to the copyright policing burden of ISPs.

In France, birth place of three-strikes legislation, the first batch of IP addresses has been sent to the new HADOPI agency by copyright owners, the first step in sending out warning letters to the individuals behind those addresses that they’re in the legal cross-hairs over their file-swapping.

According to French media reports, HADOPI has so far sent 800-1,000 requests to ISPs to identify the individuals behind those addresses. ISPs must respond within eight days or face potential fines up to €1,500 (US $1,997) per unidentified address. A third offense could lead to those individuals being referred to a judge for possible sanction, including having their Internet access cut off, under the three-strikes law passed by the Sarkozy government last year. Read More »

Apple’s cloudy deal with Rovi

Apple TV I’m beginning to think Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray is going to build his own all-in-one Apple TV just to prove it’s really happening. He’s been banging the drum for an Apple-branded big-screen TV with built-in DVR for close to two years now, first predicting it would launch by 2011, then pushing the date back to 2012. Lately he’s been hedging a bit, predicting an arrival in the next two to four years.

On Monday Munster was back again, citing Apple’s mysterious new licensing deal with Rovi as further evidence of an Apple TV/DVR on the way. Here’s the nut of his argument, via Business Insider:

  • Apple Licenses TV Guide Technology From Rovi; Further Evidence Of An Apple Television. Earlier today (9/20), Rovi, owners of television guidance technology Interactive Program Guide (IPG), announced a licensing deal covering Guide technology for Apple’s services (e.g. iTunes) and devices (e.g. Apple TV, iPad). We believe this announcement is further evidence that Apple is developing live TV and DVR features for its Apple TV product, and will likely launch an all-in-one Apple Television in the next 2-4 years. Following its deal with Rovi, Apple would be clear to add live TV, DVR, and guidance features to its Apple TV product, which we believe is a critical step towards an all-in-one Apple Television. Read More »

HDCP hack confirmed

DRM Intel officials did their best last night to downplay the potential impact of the breach of HDCP copy protection even as they confirmed that the purported master key that appeared on several web sites earlier this week is in fact the genuine article.

“We can use it to generate valid device keys that do interoperate with the (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) protocol,” an Intel spokesman told CNET Thursday. Using the master key, it would be possible to build a device that could play, decrypt and potentially record copy-protected HD content. But as a practical matter, the spokesman said, “that’s a difficult and costly thing to do,” because it would require fabbing chips .

“We believe that this technology will remain effective,” the spokesman said. “There’s a large install base of licensed devices including several hundred licensees that will continue to use it and in any case, were a (circumvention) device to appear that attempts to take advantage of this particular hack there are legal remedies, particularly under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act).” Read More »

Paying the freight for fighting piracy

Three-Strikes One of the animating but un-litigated issues behind a lot of DMCA litigation in the U.S. is cost — as in, who should bear the cost of policing digital networks and platforms for infringing material? Copyright owners have long complained that it’s prohibitively expensive for them to monitor every web site or service that might be hosting infringing material in order to send take-down notices.

Both the record companies and the studios have tried repeatedly to get courts to shift some of the burden onto ISPS and other service providers by arguing that knowledge that infringement is taking place on a platform should trigger an obligation by the platform provider to identify and screen out infringing content without waiting for take-down notices. So far, however, courts have generally refused to go along. Read More »

HDCP may be fatally cracked

DRM Studios might want to rethink those plans to offer movies in a new early HD VOD window. Reports surfaced on Twitter last night alleging that the master HDCP encryption key had been discovered and released (h/t Engadget). While there is apparently some dispute as to the validity of the claim, if true it could permanently cripple the effectiveness of the DRM used to protect digital signals on Blu-ray Disc players, digital cable boxes, HDTV sets and other devices with HDMI connectors.

With the master key, anyone with the know-how can generate their own source and sink (i.e. display) keys to capture and decrypt digital signals as they pass between devices. The effect is similar to the analog hole, which allows unencrypted analog HD video signals to be captured and copied. Read More »

The no-sale doctrine

Copyright The first thing to bear in mind when thinking through the implications of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the first sale doctrine last week in Vernon v. Autodesk is that there are two related rulings yet to come from the same court, probably any day now. One concerns the resale of promotional CDs; the other involves online video games.

All three cases were argued on the same day before the same three-judge panel. Only when we see all three opinions will we know how thoroughly the Ninth Circuit has rewritten first sale doctrine law.

Until then, however, a few observations about last week’s ruling: Read More »

BitTorrent? There’s an app for that

App Stores Everyone it seems, is getting into the apps business. BitTorrent, Inc., the keeper of the BitTorrent protocol and aspiring legit-content distribution service, on Thursday announced the rollout of a new apps platform as part of the latest version of the BitTorrent Mainline client. It’s also releasing a new SDK and API for third-party developers.

The platform, SKD and API are all open-source and free, and developers will be able to access “all the functionality of the client and offer a simple and more integrated way for consumers to find and download different types of content as well as integrate with external services that add new functionality,” according to the press release. Take that, Apple. Apps are written in JavaScript and run inside the BitTorrent client. Read More »

VLC for iPad could test Apple’s new ‘relaxed’ app policies

Media Players We may soon learn how far Apple is willing to go to accommodate Flash on the iPad under its new “relaxed” developer policies — or at least how much pressure it’s really feeling from the FTC — with the submission of a VLC media player app by French developers at Applidium. According to a press release issued Wednesday, the app is pending approval and could be available next week “If everything goes well.”

Apple has only recently begun approving third-party media players for the iPad but all of those to have become available up to now are paid apps and support only selected video formats. The VLC player, however, is an open-source project, and Applidium said it intends to offer the app for free. Read More »

Apple: No more fart apps, please

App Stores Given the specific changes Apple announced to its app developer agreement this morning we can fairly assume the FTC had something to do with it, if not everything to do with it.

Gone from the agreement is the language Apple inserted back in April prohibiting the use of cross-compilers to configure apps for the iPad and iPhone that were created using non-Apple approved tools. Apple had inserted the language after Adobe came out with its cross-compiler allowing apps created with Flash to be ported to the iPad despite the lack of support for the Adobe format in Apple’s iOS.

Also dropped was language that seemed to have been written specifically to prohibit (or at least strongly discourage) apps from using Google’s AdMob to serve ads in competition to Apple’s own iAd service. Read More »

Cops in Europe take down the Jolly Roger

Piracy With ACTA negotiators closing in on a final deal, authorities in Europe showed off some big-time cross-border enforcement chops yesterday. Police in 14 countries raided the offices and data centers of several top-sites in the so-called Warez Scene, including the Swedish headquarters of PRQ, believed to host The Pirate Bay (as well as the controversial whistle-blower site WikiLeaks). Armed with warrants, the police sought records related to specific IP addresses and in some cases seized equipment.

“In pretty much all of the cases the police just walked into the datacenters, proceeded with warrants, more or less unplugged the boxes and left with them,” one source told TorrentFreak. “They knew very well exactly what they were looking for and this was a highly coordinated attack.” Read More »

ISPs still in the copyright cross-hairs

ACTA Copyright owners have not had a lot of luck lately in their efforts to force ISPs and online service providers to take a more active and enforceable role in policing their networks for copyright infringing material.

In the U.S., courts have repeatedly rebuffed legal efforts to narrow the scope of DMCA’s Section 512 safe harbors, most recently by rejecting Viacom’s infringement claims against YouTube. Meanwhile, efforts by U.S. trade negotiators to launder new rules on ISP liability through international agreements have met resistance from foreign governments.  The latest version of the double-secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (now leaked and posted online), discards earlier language pushed by the U.S. requiring parties to impose various flavors of secondary liability on ISPs and online service providers, or requiring the parties to implement French-style three-strikes regimes. Read More »

Apple introduces a Roku box

Apple TV Now we know why Roku slashed prices on its $99 set-top box to $69 on Monday: Apple was about to introduce more or less the same box, with more or less the same functionality, at more or less the same price.

And now Apple has. With a patented “one more thing” turn, Steve Jobs on Wednesday introduced a $99 revamped Apple TV (not iTV) set-top box. Like the Roku box, the new Apple set-top has no on-board storage (allowing Apple to shrink the footprint to something close to Roku), relying instead on streaming to get content to the TV. Also like Roku, it has WiFi, Ethernet and HDMI connectors. Read More »