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Macrovision gives forth on DRM

Chewing the fat with Adam Gervin

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It’s been bothering Faultline of late that Macrovision may be getting itself a little sidelined in the war to combat piracy, so we thought we’d update our file on them and chatted this week to Adam Gervin, VP of marketing for the high-flying content protection company.

The concerns we put to him were three fold. The first issue is that the two High Definition DVD standards (Blu-ray and HD DVD) are looking to embrace new content protection technologies, which means Macrovision’s might be less useful. And with 55 per cent of Macrovision’s revenue based on DVD protection royalties, that’s no joke.

The second is that the recent reluctance and even hostility of Apple to open up Fairplay to connect to other DRM’s put Macrovision’s stated intent for its CDS 300 to be able to handshake with Fairplay, in danger. The third is that its new Hawkeye system for protecting music and films from free distribution around the P2P systems on the internet, may well be compromised by the emergence of newer P2P systems that work differently, using hash checking to ensure people are stealing the right file.

In reverse order, Gervin challenged each of these concerns last week.

“When people go onto the internet they often go to a standard starting place like Google,” said Gervin. “We want Hawkeye to become more and more like Google. When people go to a P2P site we want the next thing they touch to be Hawkeye.”

But surely if you are a youngster looking to download a track for free and you end up at a different place where the track costs money, aren’t you just going to be angry?

“People are angry when they download a poor copy or when it takes hours to download the files they want. But not when they end up under Hawkeye.

“We have done a lot of consumer research on this and the answer is no. Not if we don’t push Hawkeye purely as a way of preventing people getting to the files they want. There need to be some freebies at the end of it, some tracks that cost say just 20 cents. There needs to be a feeling that they haven’t arrived at the wrong place,” explained Gervin.

His point is that the experience when filesharers search for a track should be very similar to the experience they usually get, results should come back like regular results. They shouldn’t be taken to a heavily commercial place which tells them off for trying to steal tracks or films and which is intrusive.

Hash checking

But surely the new generation of file sharing services such as BitTorrent and eDonkey, which use referring sites and hash checking to defeat spoofed files (almost complete copies that are deliberately put up to prevent downloading the real thing), make this far more difficult.

“For a start most of the these services which need separate web sites are far more available to being shut down via legal remedies and you will find that BitTorrent and other systems are already moving to become more like search based product as well. But you are right that some companies that try to use pure brute force to build dummy files and block traffic, will have a problem with BitTorrent file downloads. But Macrovision doesn’t.

“None of the new P2P file download applications are exceptions to how Hawkeye works. There are no exceptions and we’re not concerned about them,” he said.

So how does Hawkeye differ from other competitive systems out there such those offered by Loudeye etc…? Gervin wouldn’t exactly say, but did contribute simply, “We do things fundamentally differently. We understand the underlying protocols entirely, but I can’t tell you quite how it works, that would be commercially confidential.”

It might also give pirates a clue how to attack Hawkeye.

“But I can tell you that one of the major content companies will shortly be using Hawkeye to put out a major piece of content using P2P networks. Hawkeye is as much about using P2P to put content out there as it is stopping illegal copying.”

On the subject of working alongside Apple’s Fairplay DRM, Gervin is a little more reticent. “We are in favor of stopping unprotected ripping but want to support ripping,” is how he explains Macrovision’s position.

In effect the company doesn’t want to see unprotected Red Book audio (or video) anywhere on the market and is trying to come at CD copy protection from the point of view of building in copy protection that can then release a file to be protected under another DRM, for instance from Microsoft or Apple, which then controls that file safely when transferred to an MP3 player or iPod.

Fair play?

Apple has famously refused to release details of Fairplay and RealNetworks was famously wrong footed by breaking into it in order to let its own music services offer tracks that could run on an iPod under Fairplay protection. New versions of Apple software both on iTunes and on newer iPods have now stopped this RealNetworks hack from working.

Marovision clearly didn’t want to find itself in the same position. “We have developed the technology to move content between DRMs, but we have to have the co-operation of any given DRM owner so that we can push content into any juke boxes and portable players.

Microsoft opened up its DRM right away, but Fairplay is closed and is under review by major content owners and Apple,” said Gervin. He wouldn’t be drawn into any further discussion on Apple, but it is fairly safe to assume that pressure is being applied to Apple to open up the doorway into the iPod from protected CDs even if movement the other way won’t be considered.

“I can tell you that 2005 will be the year when the entire music industry in the US moves to CD copy protection,” adds Gervin. “It will be a watershed year because there is just too much pressure to protect content.”

Most iPods are being filled by content that comes from either CDs but which is not protected, or from piracy, because they can accept unprotected content in MP3 format, so a shift to protected CDs would put Apple in a position where it was obliged to open up Fairplay, at least as we say, in one direction.

Finally, on the subject of AACS, the Advanced Access Content System that is being planned for the HD DVDs that will gradually emerge towards the end of this year, Gervin says he is also not worried, but he sounded less convincing on this count, and it is the most important aspect for Macrovision given how much revenue it has in the balance.

“Our technology is going to be enabled as part and parcel of that technology,” he began. “we are a member of the Digital Entertainment Group and partner with companies like Disney and Microsoft.”

But Gervin accepts that Macrovision is not part of AACS that is actually adopting the content protection standard for HD DVD.

To start with he limits his comments to the analog hole. “Wherever there is an analog interface, Macrovision ACP is there to fill it,” he said, which is true. Macrovision moved early during 1997 to set up circuit gain procedures that chip designers were obliged to build into DVD chips by the freshly adopted Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s a limited defense against making a copy of a film at the point where it is turned into an analog signal within a DVD player, but it is more or less universal and bypassing it is illegal in virtually every country.

But most of the copy protection in the current generation of DVDs was down to the Content Scrambling System that was so famously broken by a 14 year old Norwegian student (DVD Jon) and instructions of how to go about it left all over the internet for anyone to look up.

As a result Macrovision launched something called Rip Guard, a CSS rip control product, which has been adopted by many content owners for DVD manufacture and which now forms a big chunk of Macrovision’s revenue. “A number of content owners will be putting that on 100 per cent of their DVDs later this year,” said Gervin, “and with 1.5 billion DVDs shipping last year, we have no worries about revenue from our DVD product line.”

Recently, Faultline carried details of one of the submissions from Cryptography Research, which is seeking to create the equivalent of the CSS system for the HD DVD.

An attack of realism

Both Cryptography Research (CR) and Macrovision are both realistic and realize that no encryption process is uncrackable, but CR’s submission will make it so that DVD players can have their decoding rights revoked if any content that was decoded by it appears on a P2P network.

This revocation can be carried either online or by subsequently published DVDs.

Gervin believes that even this process, if adopted for AACS, will be cracked just as CSS was before it and sees opportunities for Macrovision once this happens with its Rip Guard product line, but also doesn’t see the high density format taking off any time soon.

He rightly points out that no standard has yet been adopted, that there is little HD content that needs anything other than a standard DVD to store it, and he believes that DVDs are likely to have 5 years or longer of continued growth.

Gervin sees the biggest problem and therefore reward, in creating an entire ecosystem to examine all DVD players and set tops, and ensure that they are all working with multiple DRM systems and he believes that the Macrovision brand makes it a natural first door to knock on.

It is easy to see that if the HD DVD does take off rapidly and if whatever AACS selects as the replacement CSS, has learned lessons from CSS and becomes a success, then Macrovision may find in the medium term (three years or so) that it has a revenue hole to replace as conventional DVD shipments diminish, and then its legendary valuation of nine times its revenue, may look a little too heavy for it to carry.

Copyright © 2004, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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