Blu-ray discs get Managed Copy; hardware support nonexistent

Blu-ray logoManaged copy" has been slouching its way toward our living rooms for years now, but the technology that can make backup copies of films will finally come to all Blu-ray discs on December 4, 2009. Unfortunately, no Blu-ray player yet has the ability to make one of these copies, rendering the whole scheme pretty pointless until consumers purchase the new players (available at some point in 2010) that are capable of contacting an authorization server over the Internet, verifying that this particular disc is allowed to make a copy, making the copy, then slathering the whole thing in a heavy marinade of DRM.

Oh, and no one said that these managed copies have to be free, either.

Four years of technological wrangling have devised this rough beast, one which sounds about as far removed from actual consumer desire as it is possible for a consumer-oriented product to be. And it's all brought to you by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which the US is currently trying to export to the rest of the world through the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

Blame Congress?

The managed copy saga has now been four years in the making. Back in 2005, when HD DVD was still battling it out with Blu-ray, companies like Intel and Microsoft went with HD DVD due to its mandatory support of (free) managed copy for all discs. The Blu-ray backers agreed to add managed copy tech to their specification as well, though it wasn't necessarily free to users.

All of this depended on the spec getting finalized by AACS-LA, which was developing the copy protection scheme that both Blu-ray and HD DVD were to use. By 2007, we were being told that managed copy was definitely on its way by the end of the year… though the work was not actually completed until the summer of 2009.

Now that it's done, all Blu-ray discs must support the managed copy feature after December 4, and disc support is required for the feature to work. The player manufacturers haven't finished their own work, though, and managed copy apparently can't be added with a mere firmware upgrade. That means a new player, of a design that doesn't even exist yet, is necessary to back up your media or transfer it to other devices.

It's easy to complain about both the delays and the actual implementation decisions made by AACS-LA, but the whole situation is really the responsibility of the DMCA's anticircumvention provision. By slapping some DRM on Blu-ray movies, studios have the ability under the law to prevent backups, format shifts, and digital rips of selected bits for use in criticism or commentary—things which are otherwise legally available to the US public.

The genius of the whole scheme is that these very same rights, which are free and easy to exert on non-encrypted digital media like CDs, is that rightsholders can then sell these very rights back to consumers for extra cash. Want to put a copy of your legally-purchased new film on your iPhone or laptop for that flight to LA? You can't—but you might soon be able to purchase the right.

This isn't the sort of change that could work in the marketplace—consumers don't like it and would simply bypass the encryption if the tools were easy and legal. Thanks to the DMCA, they are not, and the companies that traffic in them are usually located offshore.

The argument that this is about "stopping piracy" might have held water a decade ago, but it's now sinking like a leaky yacht. All of these films remain widely available online to anyone motivated to seek them out. Not that DRM has ever done much to stop piracy anyway, since all it takes is a single cracked copy to make a mockery of absurdly complicated technical lockdown attempts.

Managed copy, when it comes, will surely be better than "no copy," which is the only legal remedy that Blu-ray users have now unless they want to spent Saturday afternoon taping a backup copy off their television set with a camcorder (this is actually the MPAA's idea of allowing "fair use" of its members' movies).

But being "better than nothing" is hardly a ringing endorsement of any new product, especially one fighting its own format battle with HD streaming now available from Netflix, Epix, and many others.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Blu-ray

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