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Bloviating Zeppelin: Controlling Digital Content

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Controlling Digital Content

Let's reflect for a moment, shall we?

What is the apparent goal for most all information? To be digitized, correct?

What is the push for music, film, gaming, entertainment content?

To be digitized.

The push is away from the physical, and towards the ethereal -- the realm of 1s and 0s.

As my brother Don wrote in a recent e-mail whilst we discussed the CD format, and HD-DVD vs BluRay formats:

I think you share my version of your statement, which is that until MILLIONS of others have wasted their dollars, I'm NOT going to be on the cutting edge of the high definition recorded media (now, apparently, the BLU-RAY), which is still one step short of the RIAA's and MS's great hope of getting the masses to NEVER, EVER actually own anything PHYSICAL, such as any sort of disc. In their ideal world, they want to have everything that is "yours" located on a server under THEIR CONTROL, where they can turn off the spigot and block your access any time they want. And if they ever achieve that, corporate greed will simply NOT be able to resist the temptation to cut you off for any one of a number of reasons, or at least degrade your access to the media that you have paid good money for.

He also included this article:

Microsoft Pulling Support for MSN Music DRM
By Eliot Van Buskirk
April 23, 2008 2:05:33 PM

Music fans who purchased music from Microsoft's MSN Music service are in for another cruel awakening about the harsh realities of digital rights management. As of September 1, it will become impossible to reauthorize songs purchased from the MSN Music store, which Microsoft shuttered to make way for Zune.

Music purchased from MSN Music will still play on authorized machines, but users only have five operating systems left in their entire lifetimes on which to play the music. I say "operating systems" instead of "computers" because even when a user upgrades, say from XP to Vista, songs need to be reauthorized.

What should you do if you want to keep your music? As Sony advised its users to do when it closed down Sony Connect, you can burn CDs of your purchased tracks and re-rip them. Of course, this degrades sound quality because it forces the music through the encoding process twice. MSN Entertainment and Video Services general manager Rob Bennett broke the bad news to former users of the MSN Music service in an email on Tuesday: "As of August 31, 2008, we will no longer be able to support the retrieval of license keys for the songs you purchased from MSN Music or the authorization of additional computers. You will need to obtain a license key for each of your songs downloaded from MSN Music on any new computer, and you must do so before August 31, 2008. If you attempt to transfer your songs to additional computers after August 31, 2008, those songs will not successfully play."

My brother also wrote:

Technical note from me: The weakest link in the creation of music on digital media is the encoding / decoding process, i.e., analog to digital, and digital to analog, which may include conversion from one sampling rate to another. Aside from that, if the music has to be crushed by any re-conversion via the MP3 "lossy" compression process, further degradation will occur.

In fact, MP3 is an inferior format than a CD. MP3s rely on a masking phenomenon, a reduction of the number of bits required to convey the same musical message. MP3 doesn't require as much bandwidth to convey a tune or to store it digitally. Proponents of the MP3 format believe that a statistically significant number of persons cannot tell the difference. The simpler the music, the more difficult it is to discern the difference -- most "popular" music today. However, the more complex the waveform in, for example, a 100-piece orchestra with a 250 voice choir, much will be lost.

My brother also makes an excellent series of points:

After chatting with a few other folks and reading some commentary on the net, I am led to believe that Vista's heavy handed Digital Rights Management is leaving a pretty foul taste in some folks mouths. Vista, on the other hand, is being accepted by quite a few folks who apparently don't intend to use a computer as the central component in a multi-media entertainment system. Some say that it doesn't affect the speed of their computer, but others claim that when they stripped Vista from their computer and loaded Windows XP, that the speed seemed to have doubled. Regardless of these claims, the overhead of constantly checking every peripheral (in real time) to constantly re-authorize them is a heavy burden.

I think the bottom line, however, is that corporate greed has scotched Bill Gates' dream of having the computer be the center component in a home theater. In short, when folks get burned, it ain't gonna happen. I heard somebody say that all it will take to finish off Bill Gates' dream is for the Chinese to come out with a $49 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD universal player and then nobody would put up with the nonsense that the RIAA and MS are foisting on us.

My prediction of a troubled future for DRM as presently applied by RIAA / MS is based on something as simple as this: IF a person cannot play back a Blu-Ray disc on his home theater that he bought only 4 years ago for anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 without having to buy a NEW $10,000 PLASMA / PROJECTOR / DLP or any other expensive display, just because the signal to it must be ENCRYPTED, is a situation that I don't think will be generally tolerated. Those folks, like myself, will happily buy a Blu-Ray player, but that's as far as we're willing to go.

As a last thought, I can't help but think that the widespread "ripping" of CDs and DVDs and distribution of "free" music that came to occur as the result of an apparent feeling of entitlement; of being "due" this largesse, must be largely the cause of the industry's response in the form of DRM. In short, I think what has happened was largely initiated by the actions of that group that thought the musicians should give up their music for free. Unfortunately, corporate anger evolved into corporate greed and we have what we have. No single group is 100% without fault.

Here's the bottom line: if Sony Music thought the MP3 format was "sufficient," they wouldn't be archiving all their music (reminds me of the musical 'Master Tapes,' 2" tapes running at 30 inches per second) on hard drives, with the signals taking the form of uncompressed 24-bit, 192k-sampled audio. So evidently MP3 isn't The Ultimate? Imagine that!

My point being: whoever digitizes the content and controls this digitized content controls the almighty cash and the almighty licensing and playing.

Be forewarned, people.



Blogger A Jacksonian said...

MP3 like JPEG is a 'lossy' format: information is thrown away to render an end product that is useable and useful. Believe me, the comparison in file size to a TIFF, uncompressed, 24-bit and a JPG 24-bit compressed is huge. The fun thing is that both file types contain metadata fields inside the file to store what it is, who took it, etc. That is easily wiped out (for images something like copying with Irfanview and not saving metadata does the job). On images companies like Digimarc have tried to leave an indelible and yet invisible imprint on images, and it can be gone around via a slight increase in noise, rebalancing the image, reducing the noise... its *gone*.

I have contended that the way to get people to *buy* high quality video and audio is to *give away* a low quality version of same. A 640x480 video is just nearly good enough to RIP over to standard TV but will look pretty awful on HDTV, and yet just fine on a computer screen. Give that away and tempt people to *buy* the HDTV with better sound, extra tracks and overall better quality. Those are *huge* files (for now) and it makes sense to have them on physical media.

This works with text as Baen Books has demonstrated: they give away old books as e-text. What they get is a continued demand for their old books that is way above the reprint cycle without giving away the text!

The idea of DRM has been an asinine one since it was first introduced, and has tended to gain fan *hatred* of those companies doing same (SONY being the worse of the lot). Wouldn't you like a DRM driver that will lock up your computer?

What is worse is that there is no way known to man to lock up digitally formatted data: if it can be encoded it can be found and removed. I had to look at this on the digital imagery side due to trying to control images for my agency and came to one conclusion: you can lock down an entire front to back system, making it impossible to deploy and use, OR you can trust your end users to follow security regulations. Investigating that took me through the audio, video, imagery, text, and steganography areas, along with multiple hash/key server systems by big companies. In *theory* you can do it or make the encryption so hard that it takes a ton of computing power to break... right up to the first quantum computer is made which will have the capacity to decode anything made today in almost no time flat.

Those publishers that figure out how to give enough away to raise awareness and keep the *goodies* for those willing to pay for *quality* will survive. In the music world this has changed the outlook of a number of groups, as there is a realization that their music really isn't all that hot to start with and an MP3 does just fine... so they do this thing known as *tour* and sell other things, like t-shirts, mugs, stickers, patches, signed CDs....

Yes! Bands that go on tour! What a concept... which kills the 'studio band' that has never played together before a live audience in its entire life. This has been the route in classical music for a few decades as the experience of *live performance* far outweighs the best in digital reproduction as attending a concert is a 'social experience'. Makes for an interesting landscape where the most ready able to adapt are the small bands and symphony orchestras.

Notice what is missing between those?

Everything the big labels push out year on year. It gets RIPped and stripped and who bothers with a mediocre band anyways.... DRM will not save over produced, under liked songs in the era of $1/song or less. Quality will always sell.

Ask Baen books why people like to have a physical *book*.

Ask your local symphony orchestra about the experience of attending a concert.

Quality. Social life. Physical form that is handy outside of the digital realm.

As a fan of tv programs that died early deaths, I will *buy* full DVDs so that the creators get some appreciation for them. Might even spark some interest in the program... buying the DVD shows my dedication. That is why Star Trek TOS is now *free* at CBS. They will make a mint, along with the old Twilight Zone and other programs. Dedicated fans will download and then *buy* to show appreciation. And if you like Irfanview, send $10 to Mr. Irfan, he DESERVES IT.

Thu May 01, 11:10:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Henry said...

Sony... hypocrites.

Fri May 02, 01:30:00 PM PDT  

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