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Subject: [IP] Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?

  • From: David Farber <>
  • To:
  • Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 13:39:14 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: Bob Frankston <>
Date: February 14, 2006 12:43:36 PM EST
Subject: RE: [IP] Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?

There are too many different issues that find a home in DRM rather than seeing it as a threat.

As an FYI Cory Doctorow is talking about DRM today at Harvard http://

The irony is that some in Hollywood wonder why we get so excited about this -- after all, it's just about entertainment. But the real damage is in how much of our technology is throttled down to their constraints.

We see this in the LCDs. A computer LCD can be casually used as a TV screen but instead we must have purpose-built screens just for TV so we end up with 1080 lines instead of 1200 lines -- the latter being better at accommodating text. I can buy the 1920x1200 displays and now 2500x1600 but I can't use them thanks to DRM.

Need I point out the damage done by DRM goes far beyond this Google's efforts?

People keep complaining about the plethora of remote controls and asking why someone doesn't solve the problem.

But there is no problem -- we know that if we had simple video streams and device with open interfaces (such as XMLRPC) then we could write software to manage the streams and control the devices. Standards would follow after we've had experience but the big the advantage of the digital protocols is that we can learn by doing without having to pre-specify all of the details.

The Set Top Box is designed to prevent any of this from being feasible. The only interface is an open loop IR control. There's no excuse for thirty years of hostile relationships between the STB and the TV. For that matter why do we have the TV anymore -- one reason is that the CableCos (and the Telcos turned CableCos) want to pretend that there are channels and the TV grid so they can use it as a reason to control availability. Even the cablecard provides too much flexibility and will die. Closely related is locking HDTV to specific resolutions rather than, as in Divx (the compression technique, not the old Circuit City DRM with it&#x2019;s need to call home to verify authority &#x2013; even after Circuit City had shut down &#x201C;home&#x201D;).

The consumer electronics industry still sees itself as part of the entertainment industry (Tellywood) rather than seeing a far larger opportunity. After all, they used to make record players and radios. Devices such as cassette recorders didn&#x2019;t get the same respect.

They are helping the DRM effort by maintaining all of their oSS (Oh- So-Special) analog wires and connections rather than using a simple common medium. The closest they came was IEEE-1394 that retained old ideas like the need for QoS. QoS is a way of locking in past priorities rather than letting the users determine the priorities. IEEE-1394 also built in the assumption that electronic components were infinitely expensive so it has tight timing constraints (isochronicity) to avoid the need for buffering.

These design issues are not there for DRM per se but they do reinforce the notion that the &quot;product&quot; is well-defined and it's just a matter of delivering it. Making it simple to interconnect is seen as a threat to the control of those who are delivering the content.

A simple example of this problem is seen in the CDFS (CD File System) Drivers in Windows 95. They didn't process the audio as a digital stream -- that's one reason it was so hard to install CD drives. You had to run separate analog wires. The digital version was slipped streamed into production but people still think you need the separate analog path.

The consumer electronics industry could be the source of very powerful technologies creating all sorts of opportunities but instead they see the PC industry as a major threat and try to lock down devices to explicitly [IANAL so I&#x2019;ll add &#x201C;and with malice and aforethought&#x201D; as a phrase I heard on TV] (especially in the case of the cellular carriers) prevent the devices from being useable to create abundance (

Some of this is self-inflicted as in Sony&#x2019;s attempt to keep people form redefining the PSP. Sony is an example of the dilemma that the industry faces since it is also a content provider and wants to protect the content. Of course, as I&#x2019;ve noted in the past it is viewed as just &#x201C;content&#x201D;. How long will Sonly continue to view its customers as a threat?

Were it not for DRM the users would be able to push back on the consumer electronics industry to create more extensible devices. We would provide opportunities for all sorts of new creativity and new value.

Instead I get asked by a Congressperson &#x201C;how will the artists get paid&#x201D; even if few do now. We get the corporatists trying to lock in more control so that Mickey is assured as the only source of creativity. It&#x2019;s a bipartisan issue.

It&#x2019;s a mirror of the 1950&#x2019;s fears of hyper-automation. If we allow people to automate then there would be no jobs. Opportunity is to be viewed with fear because it changes the rules.

DRM is an attempt to prevent opportunity and disruptive change. It&#x2019;s another attempt to frustrate the first amendment.

It&#x2019;s the same battle as over whether telecom is in industry or simply a violation of anti-trust.

Maybe this is reflected in the evolution of Microsoft from a company that provided opportunities for developers since they were just providing tools to a company trying to define the users&#x2019; experiences.

The battle is framed in preserving the familiar. We must shift the discussion to help people see the value of opportunity and our ability to survive opportunity because much of what is created is problematic. But without opportunity we are just mining the past.

I&#x2019;ve already written too much here but seeing other posts brings up the issue of medical information. It&#x2019;s still framed as how the hospitals should manage it &#x2013; I see little about how we can control and manage the information. Perhaps the problem is that we have a generation that doesn&#x2019;t understand that very idea that we can create our own solutions outside the central authority &#x2013; both the libcons and those who want to do us good have to come to terms with this.

-----Original Message-----
From: Dave Farber []
Sent: Tuesday, February 14, 2006 10:05
Subject: [IP] Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?

-------- Original Message --------

Subject: Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 09:54:29 -0500

From: Richard Forno <>

To: Blaster <>

CC: Dave Farber <>

Google Video DRM: Why is Hollywood more important than users?

With the introduction of its new copy-restriction video service, Google has

diverged from its corporate ethos. For the first time in the company's

history, it has released a product that is designed to fill the needs of

someone other than Google's users.

Google Video is a new video-search and video-sales tool, through which users

can download videos that have been uploaded by their creators or by others

who have the rights to them, either because the videos are in the public

domain, or because they are used in a way that satisfies the &quot;fair use&quot;

defense in US copyright law.

Part of the Google Video offering is a store that sells videos. Some of

these are delivered in a locked format of Google's devising that restricts

how Google's users can play and use the videos they buy. This Digital Rights

Management system (DRM) is like many of those used by Google's competitors

in that it doesn't attempt to model any copyright system in the world, but

rather reflects a one-sided vision of how copyright should work and imposes

that unilaterally on Google's customers.

Here's how the Google Video DRM works: when you download a restricted video

from Google, it locks that video to your account and software player. Every

time you want to play the video, your player has to communicate with Google

to determine whether you are currently permitted to play it; if the player

doesn't get the answer it's looking for, it won't play the video. The

specifics of how this works aren't available -- Google hasn't published any

details of how the security is implemented, committing the cardinal sin of

&quot;security through obscurity.&quot;

The video is encrypted (scrambled), which means that it is unlawful for

competitors of Google (or free/open source software authors) to make their

own players for the video, even if they can figure out how to decrypt it.

Other DRM vendors, like Apple, have threatened to sue competitors for making

players that can play their proprietary file-formats.

Why Has Google Done This?

The question is, why has Google done this? There's no Google customer who

woke up this morning looking for a way to do less with her video. There's no

Google customer who lacked access to this video if he wanted it (here's a

tip: enter the name of a show or movie into Google and add the word

&quot;torrent&quot; to the search, and within seconds Google will have delivered to

you a link through which you can download practically everything in the

Google DRM catalog, for free, without DRM -- although it may be illegal for

the person you get it from to send it to you).

That's not to say that there's nothing problematic about getting your video

through Google this way. But the problems of the inability of the

entertainment industry to adapt to the Internet are the entertainment

industry's problems, not Google's. Google's really good at adapting to the

Internet -- that's why it's capitalized at $100 billion while the whole of

Hollywood only turns over $60 billion a year.

But once Google starts brokering the relationship between Hollywood and

their audience, this becomes Google's problem too, which means that all the

absurd, business-punishing avenues pursued by Hollywood are now Google's

business, as well.

It appears that the main reason Google got involved in DRM was to compete

with Microsoft and Yahoo, both of whom have created online video stores with

movies and shows from major entertainment companies. These companies demand

that their works be locked away in wrappers that restrict users in ways that

have nothing to do with copyright law and so if you want a license from

them, you've got to play ball, even though no customer wants this. You can't

exactly put your offerings online under a banner that says, &quot;Now with fewer


This Time, Google's Users Don't Come First

This isn't the first time Google's had a major industry demand that it

design a product in a way that didn't put Google's users front and center.

As documented in John Battelle's excellent book The Search, there was a

strong push on Google in the early days to adopt graphic advertising banners

for the site. All of Google's competitors were doing it, making a fortune at

it, and no one wanted to advertise via text-ads even though its users

clearly found them them less invasive than graphic banners.

But Google hewed to a brilliant and successful strategy of never putting a

supplier's need above its searchers' needs. This, more than Google's

controversial &quot;Don't be evil&quot; motto is the true force driving its most

successful offerings. Google refused to graphic ads and only accepted ads

from suppliers who shared its view of how to deliver a quality service to

its users.

Abandoning this is a terrible idea and one that's exacerbated by design

decisions in Google's DRM technology. The outcome is a Google service that

opens the company and its users to unprecedented new risk.

Google DRM and Copyright

Google's DRM has the potential to drastically re-shape the contours of

copyright law, turning a few entertainment companies' wishful thinking about

the way that copyright would work if they were running the show into de

facto laws.

Some examples of user-rights that Google Video DRM takes away:

* Under US copyright law, once you buy a video, you acquire a number of

rights to it, including the right to re-sell it, loan it to a friend, donate

it to your kid's school and so on. But with Google Video DRM, none of this

is possible: your video is locked to your account and player.

* Educators, archivists, academics, parodists and others have the right

to excerpt, copy, archive and use any video in their work, under the US

doctrine of fair use. However, Google's DRM tool stops them from doing this,

and Google's video can't be played on anyone else's tool.

When I questioned Google Video's Peter Chane about this, he said that Google

DRM is &quot;user-friendly&quot; -- but none of the user rights embodied in the US

copyright law are accommodated by Google's DRM. Google's view of

&quot;user-friendly&quot; only encompasses the design of the user-interface, not the

rights that users enjoy under the law.

Revocation and Changing the Deal

Google DRM player can be &quot;revoked&quot; -- field updated without user permission

or intervention. This isn't the standard in media players -- for example,

iTunes requires that you explicitly grant permission to the application

before it updates. Where auto-update prevails, the possibility for abuse is

dramatic -- for example, a magistrate once tried to get ReplayTV to

field-update the units it had sold to monitor its customers' use of the

device as part of a dispute about the legality of one of its features. The

idea was that the spyware would be implemented to gather the information

required for the trial. The owners of ReplayTVs were the potential victims

there, having products they'd purchased crippled after the fact (a judge

overturned the magistrate's idea before it could be implemented, but other

companies, such as AOL, have been forced to field-update their software to

court order).

Google DRM auto-updating raises the possibility that some day the same thing

might happen to them -- either because Google was ordered by a court to do

so, or because one of Google's customers responds to news of Google's DRM

being defeated (Chane and other DRM manufacturers universally acknowledge

that all DRMs will eventually be subverted by their attackers) with a demand

to &quot;update&quot; the software in a way that changes what few rights Google does

give you when you buy your movies from them.

Google won't comment on whether they've entered into any arrangements with

their suppliers that would require them to do this, and there lies the

problem. Your ongoing enjoyment of the property you buy from Google is

dependent on their ongoing relationship with their suppliers. If you buy a

Warner Brothers DVD from Tower Records, it doesn't affect you in the least

if Tower and Warners have an ugly dispute. You've bought it, it's yours. But

with Google DRM, auto-update means that it's never really yours. Third

parties always have the possibility of taking away the rights you bought,

after you bought them.

Alternative Players

DRM systems are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a

1998 law that makes it illegal to break them. That means that where a DRM is

in place, no competitor can reverse-engineer your player and make a

compatible one -- something that is otherwise lawful.

DVDs were the first widely-released DRM media. The effect of DRM on DVDs was

to deprive DVD owners of the fruits of an open market in players. In the ten

years that DVDs have been in the marketplace, no new features have been

introduced for the platform, robbing us of the dividends on our investment

in DVDs. By contrast, DRM-free CDs ushered in the era of the MP3, home

karaoke, time-shifting, media servers, iPods, mashups, MP3 CDs and all the

rest of the value that has accumulated in our music collections, the

dividend paid on our investment in the CD format.

But even DVDs are less restrictive than Google DRM. DVD players can at least

be manufactured by anyone willing to enter into a restrictive contract with

DVD-CCA, a licensing body that controls the keys and patents for DVDs.

Google has no licensing program at all, and no publicly disclosed plans for

developing such a program. In other words, your Google movies only play on

Google's player, and no one but Google gets to make a Google player.

This is particularly worrisome in the case of the Google DRM system because

it requires that you have a live Internet connection to Google every time

you want to play a movie. That means that every time you watch a Google DRM

movie, they get a record of your viewing. What's more, if you're not on the

Internet, or if Google's servers are unreachable, you can't watch your

movies. Google competitors aren't anywhere near this onerous with their DRM

-- Netflix doesn't know when you watch a DVD; even Microsoft doesn't gather

this much information on your video-watching habits. TiVo erases all

personal information before aggregating its viewer stats.

And if Google goes bankrupt (stranger things have happened -- just ask

anyone who ever bought and loved a Commodore computer), that's it, game

over. No authentication server to approve your video viewing, no alternative

player that skips the authorization step, and no legal way to make such a

player. (Google says that it's working on a version with offline viewing

capability, but this isn't present in the current version of its DRM)

That said, it's a near certainty that alternative Google players will be

developed -- though the legality of these players is unclear. Nevertheless,

just as with DVDs and iTunes, players like VLC and converters like DVD

X-Copy will surely emerge for Google DRM. Will Google sue the people who

make these players?

The company won't say. They do say that they prefer to use their

field-update capability to break the compatibility with these players, but

one wonders whether this will be much better, from a user-centric point of

view. After all, if you buy or download a tool that lets you enjoy your

lawfully acquired movies in a lawful way, what business does Google have in

reaching into your computer to take that away from you?

What Else Could Google Have Done?

Has it come to this? Has Google gone from being a company where the customer

always comes first to a company where &quot;what else could we have done?&quot; is the

order of business?

Of course, there are lots of things Google could have done. It could have

digitized all the movies and shows that are presently in its store with DRM

and simply indexed them with links to buy them on Amazon, just as it's done

with millions of books through its astonishing and wonderful Google Book

Search program.

It could have concentrated on indexing only videos that are found in the

wild on the Internet, and selling only videos that come from rightsholders

who don't want to shaft Google's customers -- repeat the strategy it pursued

when it stuck to its text-ad guns and refused to go with graphic banners.

It could have delivered tools that you use, in your home, to index your

personal video collection -- a Google toolbar for the media in your living


It could have done all or none of this. But by choosing to copy the mistakes

of its competitors, Google has put its destiny in the hands of an industry

where treating customers like criminals is the order of the day -- these are

the companies that search cinema-goers and make them leave their

cameraphones with the usher, after all.

These companies don't want Google to succeed at DRM. That would give Google

too much bargaining power in licensing agreements (see how much power Apple

has accumulated through the penetration of its lock-in DRM suite -- iTunes,

iPods and iTunes music -- the music industry's attempts to change their

licensing terms with Apple have been laughed out of the Cupertino

board-rooms). The entertainment companies prefer consortia of battling

companies that can't come out with a coherent bargaining position.

Take DVD Blu-Ray and DVD-HD: there we have two technology consortia warring

to deliver the worst product they think they can sell. The format with the

most restrictions has been promised the sweetest licensing deal for content.

Blu-Ray recently announced that it would add region coding (locking DVDs to

playback on players bought in the same country as the disc) to its final

specification -- after years of insisting that region coding just frustrated

honest users.

Google DRM doesn't come from a fragile consortium, so it isn't supposed to

be a winner: it's supposed to be a strategic tool to weaken the power of

Yahoo and Microsoft's DRM (also not supposed to be winners). The ultimate

trajectory for DRM is in consortia like Coral, where all the losers in the

DRM format-wars have been gathered together by the entertainment companies,

who've promised them preferential treatment if they'll help overturn the

Macrovisions, Microsofts and Apples of the DRM market.

There's no way Google can win the DRM wars. The end-game for the

entertainment companies is to use the sweet lure of content to turn Google

from an unmanageable giant into a biddable servant, dependent on long- term

good relations with its licensors to preserve its customers' investment in

its video.

The only way Google can win this game is not to play at all. The only way

Google can win is to return to its customer-comes-first ethic and refuse any

business-arrangement that subverts its customers' interests to serve some

other industry's wishes.


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