Bluray and DRM

I’ve always had a strenuous relationship with DRM, but up until now it has been a purely ethical loathing of the restrictions placed on technology I’m supposed to own.  Tonight, after buying a BluRay Disc and trying to play it in my computer’s BluRay Drive, my anger at DRM has taken on a technical justification.

Previously, anecdotal evidence had told me that DRM does suffer from technical difficulties – massive ones at that – but I’d never come across anything serious in my own experience.  Occasionally, playing certain formats from certain companies required some tweaking and hacking but nothing has ever been rendered completely unplayable.  Until now.

I have legitimately bought a BluRay Player.  I have legitimately bought a BluRay Disc.  I have legitimately put the BD into the BD-ROM drive.  I have legitimately installed a legitimate operating system on my legitimately owned computer.  I have not broken the law at any stage along the process.  Yet the assumption that I wish to, or already have broken copyright law precludes me from playing this now very-expensive-coaster (although in actuality it wasn’t that much more than I’d expect to pay for a decent coaster as it was preowned from blockbuster during a sale).

Here comes the hugely ironic part.  Due to the simple fact that I want to watch the film now, not after hacking and tweaking and fucking around for four hours to get the fucking thing to play on my legitimate device (did I mention that the device is 100% shop-bought, prefabricated, manufacturer-warrantied, legal shit?) which is legitimate.

Ok, ready for irony?

I’m seriously considering torrenting The Men Who Stare At Goats because of the DRM software on The Men Who Stare At Goats’ BD.

Yup, you read correctly.  The DRM software is actually ENCOURAGING me to pirate the film.  ENCOURAGING.  Its entire purpose of existence is to DISCOURAGE this behaviour, and yet it fails miserably.

Breakdown of reasons:

Pirated BD rips can be played on any device, any OS, anywhere.
BDs can only be played on computers with the right software installed, or official BluRay players.
Pirated BD rips do not need to “load” for 5-10 seconds before they do anything.
BDs have loading screens.  Loading screens for a frigging film.
Pirated BD rips are lower quality so they can be downloaded, but are still much higher quality than DVD rips and even DVD rips are generally acceptable quality.
BDs are very high quality but, due mainly to DRM, the performance overheads are enormous.  Meaning BDs will struggle to maintain smooth playback on low-end hardware.  This isn’t a direct concern for me personally, as my hardware can cope, but I worry for people who can’t afford to upgrade their entire PC just to playback BDs (considering such an upgrade could cost upwards of £500, compared to the £30 I spent buying a BD-ROM drive).

So, there you have it.  Big media companies wonder why we keep pirating their shit, but then make their product technologically limited and generally WORSE than the FREE alternative.  It’s like selling sweets for £30 a time, then arresting people who make similar sweets that taste better and are free, and getting all uppity and self-righteous about it at the same time.  And then you start telling people who buy sweets from you, rather than getting them for free, that they can’t share their sweets with their friends or family, and they can’t give their sweets away or sell them, and then you start watching them eat them so you can be sure.  And all the while wondering, why are my customers breaking the law by going to the copycat sweet makers?


Ubuntu and HDMI audio

Ok, so I got the video part of the HDMI output working with a couple of deft mouseclicks and the help of my previous workings with nvidia control panel, but when it came to audio…

First off, I go internetting, ask the mighty Google how the heck it is to be done.  I happened upon a post detailing steps to get a GT240 to work, whereupon I hit snag after snag, eventually crippling my entire audio setup.

Eventually, I found that my saving grace was “alsa-utils reset”, but the internet did not tell me this – rather, my brother pointed it out (him being an audiophile and a closet ubuntu geek).  I managed to get my speakers back, and seeing as I wanted to watch a film and had spent a good few hours troubleshooting audio things I decided HDMI audio can wait until it works ‘out of the box’.  Especially considering, as I said earlier, it’s actually a downgrade in speaker quality.

That said, it appears my tweeters have blown (muddy, muffled sounds coming from the hifi at the moment; my brother diagnosed it as blown tweeters, but he didn’t properly examine the patient so I don’t think he’d want to be quoted on that).

Those poised to criticize Ubuntu for not supporting HDMI ought remember that it is an immature technology (HDMI, that is, not Ubuntu) and is steeped in DRM.  Aside from the ethical problems I have with DRM, it also creates lots of technical hassle for projects wishing to use technologies that rely on it.  Especially if the company responsible for the DRM is uncooperative or demands financial recompense for their support in making technology work with it.  The mind boggles at why consumers put up with this kind of treatment, but I guess conglomerates preclude us from having much choice.

Have fun hacking!

Open Letter to three Tewkesbury Candidates (Alistair Cameron, Laurence Robertson and Matthew Sidford)

Dear Tewkesbury Candidates (or at least, the ones who publish their email address),

I’m a constituent living in Tewkesbury, trying to decide who I should vote for on thursday.

I would like to know each of your opinions on the Digital Economy Act. I would like to know your more general opinion of Copyright vs Copyleft, and whether internet censorship is a justifiable enforcement of copyright law.

I would also like to know what operating systems you are each familiar with and to what extent you are familiar with each. After all, if you are passing legislation regarding digital media and the use/abuse thereof, I should hope you are at least aware of a significant range of operating systems, their distribution methods and their compatibility with Digital Rights Management.

The Internet, and legislation surrounding it, affects us all. I would like to be reassured that those who are creating this legislation understand the core principles of it. Concisely, what is the internet for?

Cybercrime and cyberterrorism are also immediate threats to the safety and welfare of United Kingdom residents. What safeguards are being taken to ensure users of the internet are protected against security crackers, malicious software, privacy invasion and internet-based attacks; do you feel the current legislation is sufficient? Does it protect without infringing on civil liberties?

Remote devices – such as smart phones, tablet PCs and laptops – often include Digital Rights Management software to prevent users from infringing copyright. Have you ever been unable to use any device in the way in which you want to due to this software? Do you think the software is justifiably restrictive?

There are many software platforms available on the market today, but the main three are NT (eg Microsoft Windows), BSD (eg Apple Mac OSX) and Linux (eg GNU/Linux). Which of these (or any other) do you use? Which of these (or any other) do you think represents the most accurate analogy for your political party, and why?

I look forward to hearing from you before the general election. I appreciate I may not receive my answers until after I have voted due to the busy nature of yourselves at this time.


Christopher Browne

DReaM on…

Yup, lame pun.  And yup, this article is about Dangerously Restrictive Media.  Also known as Digital “Rights” Management.  Why anybody needs their rights to be managed, goodness only knows.  The context of the word “management” in Digital Rights Management seems to be similar to that of “Risk Management”.  In other words, it means “calculated reduction”.

So why do the Media companies impose this kind of restriction on Joe Public?  And why does Joe Public care about his Digital Rights?  Well, the Media companies are imposing this kind of restriction because they lack faith in the ability of The Law to prosecute thieves.  I find this particular lack of faith disconcerting, and it leads me to a similar mistrust of The Law, who seem to agree with The Media that prosecuting thieves isn’t enough – they should be allowed to prevent the theft in the first place.

Now, ok,  putting a lock on your door and locking it when you go to bed at night is a sensible thing to do to prevent theft.  But would you really want to keep the door locked -all the time-?  You wouldn’t be able to get out, and your friends wouldn’t be able to get in!  Sure, your stuff is safe, but the user (ie you) is under house arrest!

This is what DRM does, effectively.  It isn’t a reasonable precaution against piracy, it’s overkill.  It’s a way of saying “you aren’t trusted to leave the house or take visitors, so we’re locking your door.  Permanently.  It’s for your own good, though!”

Great.  The reason I’m complaining, by the way, is because there is much in my house which is DRM’d, and I’m sick and tired of hacking it to get it to play/run/install on the “wrong” hardware, or even just a second device!  It’s stupid!  When I legitimately purchase something, I want to be able to use it however I like, I want to be able to study it, I want to be able to modify it for my own [devious or otherwise] ends and I want to be able to give/sell/lend it to my friends/family if I no longer have a use for it.

This model is true of toasters, TVs, cars, boilers, sofas, beds, houses, kettles, washing machines, microwave ovens… thousands upon thousands of physical products.  What it is not true of is software and media (songs, movies, etc.).  Now, I grant you that software and media are “intellectual property”, which is replicatable by anybody; but, surely, if I could replicate my toaster, maybe even improving it on the way – would it be fair of me to keep the replicated toaster to myself?

And surely if I could replicate my toaster and improve it and sell it on, the original manufacturer could replicate -my- toaster, add its own improvements, and release it all over again!  Surely this promotes The Healthy Kind of competition?  In fact, surely this -defines- The Healthy Kind of competition!

So, in fact, is it not fantastic that Software is so easily replicatable?  From a software-participant*’s point of view, anyway. Well, any software-participant who cares more about Good Software than they do about making a quick buck, anyway.

*software-participant: Someone who participates in the creation, use, modification, study or improvement of software.