DRM HISTORY AND HACKING

Content creators and publishers are engaged in nonstop efforts to lock down the products you purchase from them. This is a fascinating article about the history of digital rights management and what to expect in the future.

Most restrictions have been cracked so far, whether on CDs, DVDs, E-Books, or downloadable audio. You may recall the technology intended to prevent copying CDs on a computer that could be disabled by using a Sharpie. DVD encryption is now trivially easy to defeat, if you can find a program to download to do the job. Apple is in a constant battle to keep a lid on the encryption used for iTunes downloads.

It’s tempting to think that media companies will come to their senses and give up on DRM efforts, but the article makes it clear that DRM will always be with us. Even though history has shown that formats can and will be cracked, the studios and publishers have used the legal system as a bludgeon to make the cracking tools obscure enough to prevent casual piracy. The constant drumbeat of lawsuits and rhetoric is helping create the impression in the public that they can only do with their media what the publisher allows them to do. That stands copyright law on its head, but this is about money, not law. “This type of thinking will enable media companies to better monetize their core products by selling them multiple times — movies on DVD, then again on Blu-ray, then once more for PSP, maybe a fourth time for your iPod, and a couple bucks for the privilege of time-shifting.”

In the next few years this will become far more obvious but it might be too late to do anything about it. One example: the media companies are currently implementing HDCP, a method of enforcing restrictions in the hardware between HD DVD players and televisions/monitors. If you buy a high definition TV that doesn’t support HDCP, it’s likely that you’ll have to replace it in a couple of years if you want to watch HD DVDs. Honest. “Ed Felten, a computer science professor at Princeton, has analyzed the encryption and concluded that ‘the bottom line is clear. In HDCP, ‘security’ technologies serve not to disable pirates but to enable lawsuits. When you buy an HDCP-enabled TV or player, you are paying for this—your device will cost more and do less.'”