August 1, 2006 5:27 AM PDT

Siggraph: Taking on fair use, privacy and DRM

BOSTON--"More choice for you" is the argument a Sony executive repeatedly made when questioned about digital rights management during an open-mic panel at Siggraph, a computer graphics industry conference taking place here this week.

The panel let conference attendees question Sony directly about its digital rights management (DRM) policies, and attendees and panelists weren't shy about expressing their views.

Given the ease with which music, video and other information are distributed digitally, DRM in some form or fashion is necessary to ensure such material is bought and sold fairly and copyrights are protected, said Mitch Singer, executive vice president of the digital policy group at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

"I think fair play protected Steve Jobs' ability to protect his hardware so that he could sell it for a lot more money. To allow consumers to have choice to listen, buy or (participate in) subscription models--there is no way around it unless you have a new system of DRM," Singer said.

In addition to Singer, the "Digital Rights, Digital Restrictions" panel discussion featured Karen Sandler, an attorney from the Software Freedom Law Center; Emru Townsend, founding editor of Frames Per Second magazine and a contributor to PC World's Digital World blog; and Robert Ryang, a film student who has created satirical adaptations of copyrighted films for the Independent Film Channel. But it was Singer who got the most questions.

"The music industry was successful in shutting down Napster and MP3.com, but you have to ask yourself: Wouldn't they (record companies) have been better off if they had done deals with them? We (the film industry) are not smarter than the music industry; there but for the grace of bandwidth go us," Singer said in his opening remarks.

A barrage from the audience
Singer repeatedly tried to emphasize that Sony plans to work with the changing dynamic of content and consumers as technology makes content transfer easier. But the audience, familiar with many of the arguments in favor of digital rights management, was well armed with questions and complaints.

Many expressed anger over Sony's use of "rootkit" anticopying software as a means of protecting copyright.

"I am not here to talk about rootkit. Symantec had been using it before Sony BMG, and there was not this outcry," said Singer.

Questions from Siggraph attendees also concerned their annoyance with regional coding, which prevents people from playing DVDs from one region of the world on a DVD player in another, even though the customer purchased the DVDs legally.

"Your industry's argument for coding is to control the release dates of films from one country to the next, but it's still there on a 20- or 30-year-old film," one Siggraph attendee complained.

A case for interoperability
Singer shared an anecdote of how he, too, had been frustrated by regional coding. He took the question as an opportunity to point out Sony's support of interoperability for content--an approach that would allow movies or music to be played on more than one type of device, according to Singer. He was critical of Apple Computer's iTunes when it came to interoperability, something he said he believed was going to be the key to the future of content.

"The problem with DRM now is that we have no interoperability. When iTunes consumers realize that they just spent all this money and then a new gadget comes out from Sony or Microsoft or Samsung...I think there is going to be a revolt when they realize they will not be able to transfer that content to that device. Protect content, but make it transferable," said Singer.

His main argument for digital rights management was that it allows consumers greater choice in how they consume content.

"When I think of DRM I think of enabling new offerings to the consumer. Maybe a consumer wants to watch a movie, and for that the price may be $1.99, for someone who wants to own it the price will be $9.99, or around there, depending on the product," said Singer.

But both Townsend and Sandler pointed out to Singer that technological models without DRM already exist to provide that option, and that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act may be overreaching in the ways it protects copyright and the mechanisms designed to do it, even if the mechanisms prevent fair use.

"DMCA means that even if a court agreed you can make a copy for personal use, it's illegal to crack the code," said Townsend.

"I am deeply suspicious of DRM technology in part because the DRM we see now says that it protects copyright law, but it also prevents legitimate use, for parody, news and education. (It) is overbroad for legitimate use. As the restriction stands now, when public material falls in to the public domain, the DRM tech stays in place and does not fall away. DRM also has the potential to compromise privacy and security," said Sandler.

Singer acknowledged that there will always be piracy from "those who have more time than money," such as college students, but that Sony's aim is to make content convenient and reasonably priced and reasonably restricted enough to prevent general working consumers from going to other channels.

While most agreed that such an aim would probably work, Townsend warned that Sony should take cultural attitudes into account. While anime fans stopped burning and distributing the Japanese films once they were available in the U.S., said Townsend, it was done in large part because the fan base had a respect for the anime industry. The contempt held by most young digital consumers for large corporate content providers may carry over into their adulthood, he said.

"Every year, millions of analog consumers die and millions of digital consumers come into the marketplace, and we have to deal with them," Singer said, noting that it was his job to remind Sony executives of that fact.

The discussion went on for almost two hours and didn't often stray from concerns about fair and personal use, privacy and rights protection for digital content. The criticism of Sony and its industry was fierce, considering the audience consisted of computer graphics industry professionals, who themselves benefit from the protections of copyright laws. There was one source of consumer irritation, however, that Singer did not even try to defend.

"Why, when I buy a DVD, am I forced to watch commercials?" an audience member asked.

"I know. I agree. I'm with you there," Singer said, laughing.

See more CNET content tagged:
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21 comments

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Beautiful take on DRM
"I am deeply suspicious of DRM technology in part because the DRM we see now says that it protects copyright law, but it also prevents legitimate use, for parity, news and education. (It) is overbroad for legitimate use. As the restriction stands now, when public material falls in to the public domain, the DRM tech stays in place and does not fall away. DRM also has the potential to compromise privacy and security," said Sandler.

Just the best wording over the DRM debate that I have seen. *clap clap*

I think it is funny Sony says they want to make content affordable. They have been fighting Rentals forever (until their DRM allows THEM to do; however, they have always claimed Rentals were a breach of copyright), and now Blu-Ray comes which is a severely more expensive process.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blu-ray will fail
Blu-ray will fail. Too expensive. It will be a Betamax repeat.
Posted by Stan Johnson (322 comments )
Link Flag
Singer is full of !@#!
"Singer shared an anecdote of how he, too, had been frustrated by regional coding. He took the question as an opportunity to point out Sony's support of interoperability for content--an approach that would allow movies or music to be played on more than one type of device, according to Singer. He was critical of Apple Computer's iTunes when it came to interoperability, something he said he believed was going to be the key to the future of content."

I know this is not Sony talking...
1. creators of the atrac format
2. the company whose first digital audio players wouldn't even play the mp3 format.
3. The company know for the Rootkit fiasco....

No, this couldn't be a representative of Sony talking about interoperability, could it??
Posted by Musica360.com (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Farce
> Sony's support of interoperability for content

That's just plain stupid. When with whom Sony is/was interoperable? Is it BD v. HD? Or is it Atrac v. ISO MPEG4/AAC? MemoryStick v. SD? Was interoperability the goal of licensing terms on SACD? MD? Beta? Memory Stick? All the great Sony's ideas sunk because of greedy behaviour on part of Sony. And that costed Sony (as well as consumers) lots of money.

On average, from my experience, since Apple has no dominating powers, it used to accept existing standards (ISO/MPEG4 being good example). Not like Sony - to challenge the standards with some proprietary locked-down technology (Atrac).
Posted by Philips (400 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sony executive doesn't understand what he is promoting...
Like Hillary Rosen, this executive vice president of the digital policy group at Sony Pictures Entertainment is unaware of the technical details of the technology that he is promoting.

Mitch Singer said, "The problem with DRM now is that we have no interoperability."

The way DRM works is by encoding digital content so that it is only interoperable with "authorized" access devices. These "authorized" devices are devices where the manufacturer, not the owner, is in control of the device. I consider the legalization of allowing manufacturers to put technical measures on devices that consider the *OWNER* to be the attacker of the device to be state-sponsored theft.

Not being interoperable isn't a side-effect of DRM, it is the entire point. Contrary to the myths promoted by specific DRM vendors, there is and can never be interoperable DRM. While it is possible to make all the software based on Open Standards, and even implement it in Open Source if you want (What Sun Microsystems proposes), at the end of the day you will have cryptographic keys which lock content to authorized devices, and thus this scheme will by design not be interoperable with "unauthorized devices".

Note: If you are a Canadian and believe like most people that it should be the owner, and not the manufacturer, that decides what software can be install on hardware, then you should sign the Petition to protect Information Technology property rights <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.digital-copyright.ca/petition/ict/" target="_newWindow">http://www.digital-copyright.ca/petition/ict/</a>
Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DRM
It looks like nobody in the industry noticed,that more restrictive DRM means more income to happy illegal sellers.When nobody can do with his own copy anything,they just drop buying expensive original and go buying pirated ones.Or just stop buying at all.
Posted by Klimax (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
SRM
DRM will only get worse for the consumer paying the bill.

PAC groups "influence" the Congress with millions of dollars the consumer groups do not have.

Soon everything will be controlled, what you record, can share, can back up, what order it can be played back, how many times, retention periods etc etc etc.

Great example, Look at the MAC DRM. You are stranded on the IPOD. You cannot back it up, copy it to YOUR CD or anything. You are in a FORCED DRM island.

You will seee all electronics f\device that no longer have audio/video/TV OUT or IN connects to prevent copying etc.

My new DVD recorder dooes not have Time of day capabilities so I can record somethng from 1200 to 2PM and watch it later like the old VHS machines.

The consumer has lost we are doomed to a rigid and narrror usage hell by the industry including the MPAA and RIAa etc etc etc

Count on it.
Posted by genethomas2095 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's get it striaght...
"Great example, Look at the MAC DRM. You are stranded on the IPOD. You cannot back it up, copy it to YOUR CD or anything. You are in a FORCED DRM island."

1. It's not the "Mac DRM", it's Apple's DRM running on Macs and Windows

2. You CAN back it up AND burn it to CD. (Where do you get your information from?)

3. Apple's Fairplay is A LOT less stringent than Windows Media DRM with one rule applying to all.

It's amazing how people post such crap without even doing a little homework........
Posted by Musica360.com (106 comments )
Link Flag
Good points but flawed example...
There is no such thing as "MAC DRM", it is Apple's FairPlay of which you speak. I'm not a big fan of restricting any consumer use of a media format. If you're paying for it I think you should be able to presonally use it however you see fit. Your particular example, however, is total nonsense. You can absolutely burn a CD of any music you have in iTunes. I have a physical, burned CD of every single album I have purchased through iTunes. This then gives me portability. I have many of those albums loaded onto my Xbox 360 as well as my cell phone in MP3 format. I ripped the music from the CDs to a WAV file, cut it up, and created my own ringtones. All from music purchased via iTunes. I also back up my entire music directory (among others) nightly to a Network Attached Storage device.

I am in total agreement with your underlying point, however, that the PAC groups are basically buying our freedom from the government and handing it to the RIAA and MPAA.

Then again, you're technically not supposed to be able to rip a DVD into another format and I have several movies and TV shows on my iPod, PSP, and Moto Q. So if you're willing to put in the time, there is bound to be a way around any kind of restriction.
Posted by PhillyBoy919 (126 comments )
Link Flag
Your Point...?
This is true of all DRM, Fairplay AND WIndows Media.
Posted by Musica360.com (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
okay but...
Let's not act like they're doing this out the kindness of their heart. The only reason they're so intent on licensing their format is because THEY want to be the format of choice and the only way they can currently compete IS TO license.
Posted by Musica360.com (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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