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<nettime> Coming Soon: Hollywood Versus the Internet (Mike Godwin)
geert lovink on Wed, 9 Jan 2002 10:32:24 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Coming Soon: Hollywood Versus the Internet (Mike Godwin)

date sent:      Tue, 18 Dec 2001 17:50:33 -0500
from:           Mike Godwin <mnemonic {AT} WELL.COM>
subject:        Coming Soon: Hollywood Versus the Internet

An article I've been working on, for your comments.


Coming Soon: Hollywood Versus the Internet

If you have a fast computer and a fast connection to the Internet, you
make Hollywood nervous. And Tinseltown is nervous not because of what
you're doing now, but because of what you *might* do -- grab digital
Hollywood content with your computer and broadcast it over the

Which is why Hollywood, along with other content companies, from book
publishers to the music industry, has begun a campaign to stop you
from ever being able to do such a thing -- even though you may have no
intention of becoming a copyright "pirate." That campaign has pitted
corporate giants like Disney and Fox against corporate giants like
Microsoft and IBM, but the resulting war over the shape of future
digital technology may end up with us computer users suffering the
"collateral damage."

As music-software designer and entrepreneur Selene Makarios puts it,
this campaign represents "little less than an attempt to outlaw
general-purpose computers."

Let's get one thing straight -- when I say there's war looming in
cyberspace over copyright, I'm not talking about the struggle between
copyright holders and copyright "pirates" who distribute unlicensed
copies of creative works for free over the Internet. Maybe you loved
Napster or maybe you hated it, but the right to start a Napster, or to
infringe copyright and get away with it, is not what's at issue here.
And in a sense it's a distraction from what the real war is.

What I'm talking about instead is the war between the content
industries (call them "the Content Faction") and the
information-technology industries -- call the latter "the Tech
Faction." That faction includes not only computer makers, software
makers, and related digital-device manufacturers (think CD burners and
MP3 players and Cisco routers). Allied with the Content Faction are
the consumer-electronics makers -- the folks who build your VCRs and
DVD players and boomboxes. The Tech Faction, which makes smarter, more
programmabale devices and technologies than the consumer-electronics
guys do, may count among their allies many cable companies and even
telephone companies.

But what's the "collateral damage," exactly? Perhaps the most likely
scenario is this: at some near-future date - perhaps as early as 2010
- individuals may no longer be able to do the kinds of things they
routinely do with their digital tools in 2001. They may no longer be
able, for example, to move music or video files around easily from one
of their computers to another (even if the other is just a few feet
away in the same house), or to personal digital assistants. Their
music collections, reduced to MP3s, may be moveable to a limited
extent   unless their digital hardware doesn't allow it. The digital
videos they shot in 1999 may be unplayable on their desktop and laptop
computers -- or even on other devices -- in 2009.

And if they're programmers, trying to come up with the next great
version of the Linux operating system, for example, they may find
their development efforts put them at risk of criminal and civil
penalties if the tools they develop are inadequately protective of
copyright interests. Indeed, their sons and daughters in grade-school
computer classes may face similar risks, if the broadest of the
changes now being proposed becomes law.

Digital television is the thin entering wedge for the Content
Faction's agenda. Here's why: unlike DVD movies, which are encrypted
on the disc and decrypted every time they're played, digital broadcast
television needs to be unencrypted, for a couple of reasons. First,
the Federal Communications Commission requires that broadcast
television be sent "in the clear" -- in unencrypted form -- as a
matter of public policy. The argument here is that broadcasters are
custodians of a public resource -- the part of the broadcasting
spectrum used for television, and need to make whatever they pump into
that spectrum available to everyone. Second, digital broadcast TV has
to reach the existing (albeit relatively small) installed base of
digital television sets, which wouldn't be able to decode encrypted

But digital broadcast television also poses a special problem -- it's
just too darned high-quality. And if a home viewer can find a way to
copy the content of a digital broadcast, he or she can reproduce it
digitally over the Internet (or elsewhere), and everybody can get that
high-quality digital content for free.  This would have a particularly
harsh effect on the movie and TV studios, which currently repackage
old television shows for resale to individuals as DVDs or videotapes,
and which also syndicate the rights (resell broadcast rights) to cable
networks and to individual broadcasting stations. If everybody's
trading high-quality digital copies of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or
"Law & Order" over the Internet, who's going to view the reruns on,
respectively, Fox's FX network or the Arts & Entertainment channel?
What advertisers are going to pay to air those shows when their
complete runs are available online to viewers, commercial-free,
through some successor to Napster or Gnutella peer-to-peer

The Content Faction has a plan to prevent that world from coming
about -- a plan they hope will work for music and every other kind of
content. One guide to a different future is the "watermarking"
solution proposed for digital broadast television.

Essentially, there are two parts to the scheme. The first part is
this: the digital broadcast TV signal will include a digital
"watermark" containing information that tells a TV watcher's
home-entertainment system whether to allow copying at all, or to allow
limited copying, or to allow unlimited copying. The so-called digital
watermark is not like a normal watermark in stationery -- instead,
it's "steganographic." That is, it's contained in the content itself
but the normal viewer isn't be able to see it without special tools.
Not all of the bits in a digital bitstream have to be used to
communicate images or sound -- the remaining bits can be structured in
a way that adds up to a "watermark."

But the first part of the fix -- adding a watermark -- doesn't work
without the second part, which is that the components of the home
entertainment system have to be designed to receive those watermarks
and flags and limit copying accordingly.

If the digital TV guys put together a working watermarking scheme for
television, then at least in theory they've come up with a solution
that will apply to all other digital media. After all, bits is bits.

There are some problems with this scheme -- perhaps intractable ones.
If Princeton computer scientist Edward Felten is right, when you
design your watermarking system so that it is invisible to normal
viewers or listeners yet easily detectable by machines, it's probably
going to be relatively easy to strip it out. To put it simply, if you
can't see it, you won't miss it when it's gone.

Which is why, when you think through how the watermarking system will
work, you realize the components of new home entertainment systems
will also likely have to be designed not to play unwatermarked content
- otherwise, all you've done is develop an incentive for both
inquisitive hackers and copyright "pirates" to learn how to strip out
the watermarks.  So much for your legacy digital videos. So much for
your MP3 collection.

What will the components of a new home-entertainment system be,
exactly? Mostly standard consumer electronics: a VCR, a DVD player,
maybe, a CD player, speakers, a TV receiver. Yet what tech-industry
pundits call "convergence" means that one other component is
increasingly likely to be part of home-entertainment setups -- the
personal computer. Says Business Software Alliance special counsel
Emery Simon: "That's the multipurpose device that has them terrified,
that will result in leaking [copyrighted content] all over the world."

This is precisely what Disney CEO Michael Eisner, in a speech to
Congress in summer of 2000, was referring to when he warned of "the
perilous irony of the digital age." Eisner's statement of the problem
is shared by virtually everybody in the movie industry: "Just as
computers make it possible to create remarkably pristine images, they
also make it possible to make remarkably pristine copies."

Because computers are potentially very efficient and capable copying
machines, and because the Internet is potentially a very efficient and
capable distribution mechanism, even in the hands of ordinary
individuals, the Content Faction has set out to restructure the entire
digital world we have today. They want to rearchitect not just the
Internet, but every computer and digital tool on or off the Net that
might be used to make unauthorized copies.

Ask them about their goals, though, and they'll tell you they don't
quite want to turn back the clock. If you use your VCR to record a
favorite program so you can watch it later, why, then, the Content
Faction says, we'll let you do something similar in the future -- but
we're also going to make sure, with our watermarking scheme or
something similar, that it won't be possible to do more than that.

The Content Faction is proceeding on many fronts: legislative, of
course, but also in standards groups, in industrial consortia, and in
global business policy forums. A recent legislative proposal floated
(but not formally introduced) by Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-SC, which
would require that all new digital-transmission technologies have
built-in copyright protection -- built-in watermark-scheme compliance,
in other words -- generated a significant public backlash after being
leaked to the press. But that proposal caused a backlash because it
was itself public -- in reality, it's only one small part of a mostly
unpublicized global effort to include digital-rights-management in
every digital technology. "Digital rights management," also known to
both factions as "DRM," is the generic term used to characterize any
technology -- software, hardware, or both -- that prevents
unauthorized copying of, or that controls access to, copyrighted

At stake in this war, says Eisner, who's the acknowledged leader of
the Content Faction, is "the future of the American entertainment
industry, the future of American consumers, the future of America's
balance of international trade."  The lobbyists at News Corporation
and Vivendi Universal S.A. -- and pretty much any other company whose
chief product is content -- agree with Disney's Eisner about the
magnitude of the issue (although the foreign-based ones, like
Bertelsmann AG, are understandably less concerned about the U.S.
balance of trade). All of them tend to talk about the problems posed
by computers, digital technology, and the Internet, in apocalyptic

The companies whose bailiwick *just is* computers, digital
technology, and the Internet -- whose focus is more technology than
content -- take a different view. These members of the Tech Faction,
which include Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, and
Adobe, also value copyright. (Adobe, for example, just this year
instigated the prosecution of a Russian computer programmer who
cracked the company's encryption-based e-book security scheme.) And
many of them -- particularly those who have been developing their own
digital-rights-management technologies -- want to see a world in which
copyrighted works are reasonably well-protected.  Yet if you ask an
Tech Faction member what it thinks of the Content Faction's agenda for
the digital world, you invariably get something similar to the Emery
Simon's judgment of the scheme: "We are strongly antipiracy, but we
think mandating these protections is an abysmally stupid idea." (BSA
is an anti-piracy trade group whose members include the major players
of the Tech Faction, from Adobe to Microsoft to Intel to IBM.)

You can't overestimate the extent to which the two factions are both
pro-copyright -- their shared view of the importance of protecting
copyrighted works online makes them awfully uncomfortable to be on
opposite sides now. One thing the Tech Faction and the Content Faction
have in common is that they both supported the passage of the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 -- both sides like the DMCA pretty
much as it is. That act, which was framed as the implementation
legislation for the World Intellectual Property Organization's
Internet treaties, prohibited the creation, dissemination, and use of
tools that circumvent digital-rights-management technologies.

Where the two sides differ is on the issue of whether the DMCA is
enough. BSA's Simon views the DMCA as a well-crafted piece of
legislation, but thinks that efforts that would build DRM into every
digital device are overreaching, at best.  And in taped remarks
presented at a Dec. 4 business-technology conference in Washington,
DC, Intel CEO Craig Barrett spoke out against legislation like the
Hollings bill, which would have the government mandating a
copyright-protection standard to adopted by the entire IT industry.
Yet the Content Faction, as represented by their lawyers and lobbyists
in Washington, as well as by their West Coast technologists, say that
failure to standardize on a universally built-in
digital-rights-management technology will, in effect, lead to the
destruction of the digital-content industries.

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