Stupid, stupid, stupid

by Erica Sadun

Last week, the LA Times reported that several major studios began offering downloadable versions of their movies on the day of DVD release. The details left me stunned: Windows only, DRM movies at roughly twice the DVD price. You can't even burn 'em to disc. Let's go through the stupidity point by point.

  • Release the Video on Opening Day. Lots of us have grown up. We've got kids, mortgages and pets. Babysitting costs? Crippling. We're not going out to the movie theater even if you gave us free popcorn. We hate the icky seats, the crowding, the germ-laden air and so forth. So let us buy the movie on the same day it hits theaters. We'll even pay theater prices and maybe a small premium. This nonsense of delaying the DVD/video release doesn't pack the theaters more, it just ticks off the people who have to wait.

  • Skip the DRM limits. It's called steganography, people. I can't believe this technology hasn't caught up with video. For heaven's sake, just embed a single-user license code somewhere into the video itself. If someone peers-to-peers it, look up the code and prosecute the guilty party. The code doesn't have to permeate the entire video, just a few secret scenes will do it. Add this to the storefront fulfillment software and bob's your uncle.

  • Price it right. If you make us wait and won't give us a pressed disc, at least give us a price break for crying out loud. Downloads should cost less not more than a DVD. You're getting lower-quality and no package. We know how to rip, guys. Make it worth our while to buy digital.

  • Let us Convert. When I buy a movie, I want to be able to play it on the device of my choice, including my TV. Playback only on a PC? They guy or gal who came up with the PC-only limit is, frankly, an idiot. I can imagine him or her saying "Let's sell movies, charge double the price of a DVD of all!...prevent the customer from using the TV for playback." Genius!

  • Skip time limits. Actually, this is one thing they got right. When people download a video, don't make it auto destruct. Just let people play it whenever they like, however they like. This isn't Blockbusters or Netflix. There are no shiny little discs to return so someone else can watch. Just sell the movie, we'll watch it when we get around to it.

  • Make it Universal. What kind of idiot thinks: "Digital Media. Let's go only with Windows?" Macs do digital media. Linux does digital media. Why Windows only? *knock* *knock* Anybody home?

  • CinemaNow: "You must use Internet Explorer Version 6 or higher on a PC running Windows 2000 or later in order to use the CinemaNow service."

    Movielink: "Sorry, but as of May 2, 2005, Movielink no longer supports Windows 98 and ME operating systems. Movielink also does not support Mac or Linux. In order to enjoy the Movielink service, you must use Windows 2000 or XP,
    which support certain technologies we utilize for downloading movies."


2006-04-07 12:09:11
I got that right:

"In order to ENJOY (...), you must use WINDOWS......"

Vanitas vanitatem....

Erica Sadun
2006-04-07 12:15:30
Well, TheMas, for obvious reasons if the movie stars SNL alums, you're probably not going to enjoy the movie whether you use Windows or not. "Little Nicky" makes it actually preferable to own a Macintosh with the existing terms of service.
William D. Neumann
2006-04-07 12:33:52
It’s called steganography, people. I can’t believe this technology hasn’t caught up with video.

If it were only that simple.

As you've noted, this would have to be an efficient process (in terms of cycles and time) of marking, as it has to take place between the order and the download. This means that it would have to be limited to very small portions of the file. And since they would (or should) be spread out in the file randomly, then with high probability, the intersection of hidden information locations for any reasonable sized collection of movies would be empty. Therefore, get three copies, scan through them, where one copy doesn't agree with the other two, use the bits from the other two copies. Boom! Hidden information is scrubbed and we have an untraceable copy to distribute.

Now, this is a bit simplified, but the basic principle is still there. This is a hard problem that (to the best of my knowledge) hasn't been solved yet. DRM, while also circumventable, raises the bar a bit higher. And, as seen with Apple's fairplay system, can be made pretty workable -- not as flexible as a DVD, but still better than going to the theater.

2006-04-08 07:05:52
I think you need to educate yourself before making silly points like the above. The DRM paradigm relies on the client machine (the machine to which you download the movie) obeying the limitations encoded in the download. The problem with this is called the "The Fallacy of Trusted Client Software" ( If you have the file, then you can do anything you like with it. Real world example: I hand you a locked safe. You want to get into it. You'd manage it fairly quickly. DRM is a corrupted philosophy driven by business goals and is directly contrary to sensible thinking.
William D. Neumann
2006-04-08 08:12:34
Yeah. I'm well aware of the limitations and problems with DRM. I do crypto research for a living, and have looked at some of the problems surrounding DRM and the equivalent of traitor tracing for online distribution of media -- I am pretty well educated on the matter. There are no easy solutions, and it appears that the best you can hope for is a good tradeoff between inconveniencing a casual re-distributer of material while not overly inconveniencing a legitimate user. At the moment, that is more easily and successfully done via DRM schemes than via the stego solution Erica proposed.

To use your safe analogy, given a quality safe, probably 95% of the people out there lack the tools to get in -- some will get in, and some will share the contents of the safe. You can't avoid it. But the stego solution described above is a bit like protecting your content by sticking it in a $20 locking file cabinet from Wal-Mart. Anyone with a pair of tin snips can get it if they want. Granted, tools like bit torrent can easily transform one copy into thousands, but lowering the number of entry points is still a valid goal.

2006-04-10 06:12:39
There are no easy solutions, and it appears that the best you can hope for is a good tradeoff between inconveniencing a casual re-distributer of material while not overly inconveniencing a legitimate user.

They've long crossed that point of not inconveniencing the user, and lost a whole bunch of sales this weekend, with CDs. We were going to buy 4 CDs (several were box sets, so even more physical CDs than that). 2 were BMG (sorry, no trust of Sony in my computer, back on the shelf you go) and 1 didn't have the "compact disk" trademark on it (who knows what the format really is, and what'll do to the computer, back on the shelf with you). 75% back on the shelf, and the one that stayed was actually the cheapest one.

2007-09-06 18:44:25
Just a coment... if you can play it only in your PC, that does not mean that you cannot see it on your TV. Just connect your TV to your PC, seat back and enjoy your microwave popcorn.
I agree with the pricing complaint, though...