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OPINION JULY 9, 2001
Talkin' Smack: The Security Scam

Digital rights and consumer wrongs

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

So, is it just me, or does everyone hate rights management companies? You know, those guys who make the technology that other people use to keep consumers from copying their stuff. Take Macrovision, for example, since it's their technology that has annoyed me most recently. Macrovision is the company that makes that encoding technology to "prevent piracy." At least that's the claim. In practice, it's the technology that causes me to go out and buy more expensive equipment because I can't use my VCR as a media hub because Macrovision's technology doesn't understand the difference between passthrough and recording. In other words, I can't run my DVD player through my VCR and actually watch a DVD because Macrovision thinks I'm trying to pirate my DVD just by virtue of the fact that both my VCR and DVD player are turned on at the same time.

I suppose I can't blame Macrovision too much. If I could figure out a way to scam electronics manufacturers out of millions, I suppose I would too. (Macrovision raked in $23 million last quarter alone.) I use the word "scam" because there's actually nothing in Macrovision's technology that prevents actual piracy. See, if I felt like it, I could play my DVD through something like a FireWire bridge and into a digital or analog recorder. Or, for real volume, I could just duplicate the DVDs bit by bit and not worry about a thing. I'd have the original interactive menus and everything. Then I hook up with an outfit offshore and start taking orders....

Of course, I wouldn't advocate doing this, as I wouldn't want my stuff stolen either, but I'm using it as an example of how companies that offer security services leech upon the insecurities of others without actually providing solutions to problems—and actually cause problems in the process. It's the same with those companies that sell security systems to airports or alarm systems to elderly people who are too enfeebled to realize they'll be dead before the rent-a-cop shows up.

Scam, the whole lot of them. Scams against consumers and vendors alike.

Now, I don't just bring this up out of the blue. Regular readers will recall that one of my favorite topics of late, aside from bashing annoying companies, is digital projectors. And guess who's been giving the pitch to projector manufacturers lately. That's right, digital rights management companies. For the love of Jobs, I don't even know how an output device like a projector could be used for piracy. Passthrough? Maybe. There are certainly cheaper ways to do it though.

Nevertheless, it seems digital rights management is holding up development of better, cheaper projectors for home theater use. On our sister site Presentation Master, author David England discusses the holdup, albeit without the bile, and how major studios want to see rights management applied throughout the electronics chain in people's homes. Translation: Soon consumers won't be able to watch the programs you produce if any one of their devices in their chain doesn't support rights management.

Hey, that'll put pirates out of business; there won't be a market for entertainment products!

Well, it's not al that serious, but it is just so bothersome. I hope projector manufacturers can resist the urge to succumb to the temptation of lame security solutions that don't protect rights at all but do make the entertainment process that much less entertaining.

For more on the topic that's got me down this week, take a look at the report in our sister publication, Presentation Master, here.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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