Next-gen DRM looks bleak

Written by Wil Harris

January 23, 2006 | 12:02

Tags: #content #drm #fair-use #hdcp #hd-dvd #mpaa #protection #secure

Companies: #blu-ray #riaa

A couple of articles on the net this morning point to the miserable future that average consumers could well face as the next generation of optical media hits.

Ars Technica points out that it has been confirmed that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will downsample high definition content for analogue or non-protected digital displays. If you have a gorgeous 21" CRT sitting on your desktop that does some obscene resolution, you're going to be stuck watching HD at at a rather non-HD resolution of 960x540. If you have a nice 32" high definition LCD screen connected up to your Media Center via VGA, you'll get 960x540. The only way you're going to be able to get a full 1920x1080 resolution will be if you're running a HDCP compliant graphics card, disk drive, monitor and operating system.

This 'functionality' is achieved by way of an Image Constraint Token, which can be flagged to downscale any video going over a cable that isn't protected. The token has been implemented to prevent what the content industries fear will be a rash of analogue, high resolution piracy on next generation devices.

Meanwhile, the RIAA and the MPAA are lobbying political figures very hard to allow them to veto any future functionality in any future content distribution standard. The Inquirer is keeping tabs, and reports that a Republican bill sponsored by Senator Gordon Smith is requesting that no technology be legalised that goes beyond the 'customary historic use' of content, such as that is currently legal. This would mean that any new invention in the sector - such as a cool new digital distribution method - would be illegal unless agreed or ratified for secure distribution by these two monopolists.

The 'customary historic use' is a new term designed to replace the idea of 'fair use' currently in existence. Historic use would not cover the moving or sharing of content delievered via a digital subscription service - meaning that it would be illegal to share any legally-bought or subscribed digital content in any manner other than that expressly authorised by the vendor.

Talk about getting screwed. These companies, it seems, are absolutely determined to make sure we do nothing with our content other than what they expressly deign permissable. Frankly, it rather appears like piracy could become even more rife with the next generation of content protection, not less: who wants these kind of draconian restrictions on what they can do with their own content?

Got an opinion? Dreading trying to move music between your gaming rig, Media Center PC, iPod and MacBook? Looking forward to a future dominated by competing standards? Let us know what you think over in the forum.
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