Why I joined the EFF

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Recently, I joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Some might equate the EFF the ACLU of the digital world. So, those of you that know my political leanings might ask, why? Let me try to explain.

Regular readers of this blog know that I work in the telecommunications industry. Specifically, for the last 10 years, I have been working to create products that allow telecommunications service providers to deliver broadcast-quality video over Internet Protocol (IP) over their networks. Our customers, the service providers, demand we create innovations in IPTV which give them competitive differentiation over the incumbent video service providers–typically the MSO (Multiple Service Operator) the cable company, or the Direct to Home (DTH) satellite company. Our ability to deliver these innovations is constantly under threat from traditional media sources which continuously fight new technology. The EFF is working to protect the rights of consumers to fair use which I believe protects our ability to innovate.

Does the EFF sometimes come into conflict with technology companies? Yes. In many cases, the same companies that lead the innovation charge are also working with traditional media companies on schemes to “protect” digital content. Where this “protection” limits consumer freedom, the EFF steps in to fight for consumer rights. Interestingly, it appears to me, that wherein the EFF and technology companies are in conflict, such conflict is limited to the short-term interests (some would say shortsighted) of that company. Protection of consumer rights is to the long-term benefit of all technology companies–whether they recognize this in their frenzy to generate quarterly results, depends on their ability to look beyond the numbers.

The EFF is fighting to protect consumer rights to fair use of content, whether it be in analog or digital formats.

Check out the Innovation section of the EFF website. Two areas of particular interest are Digital Rights Management (DRM) and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). I encourage you to read the EFF information on both topics DRM and DMCA. For those of you who have PVRs or are contemplating a new HDTV purchase, the Digital Video Restrictions information is eye-opening.

EFF RSS Feeds can be found here.

Blu-Ray AND HD-DVD broken – processing keys extracted

Blu-ray HD-DVD logoCory Doctorow has posted an article on BoingBoing discussing the recent news that the processing keys for AACS, the DRM system used by Blu-Ray and HD-DVD have been extracted. This allows the content on EVERY Blu-Ray and HD-DVD to be decrypted. This news builds on the recent news that the volume keys for HD-DVD had been compromised. Quoting from Cory Doctorow:

AACS took years to develop, and it has been broken in weeks. The developers spent billions, the hackers spent pennies.

For DRM to work, it has to be airtight. There can’t be a single mistake. It’s like a balloon that pops with the first prick. That means that every single product from every single vendor has to perfectly hide their keys, perfectly implement their code. There can’t be a single way to get into the guts of the code to retrieve the cleartext or the keys while it’s playing back. All attackers need is a single mistake that they can use to compromise the system.

There is no future in which bits will get harder to copy. Instead of spending billions on technologies that attack paying customers, the studios should be confronting that reality and figuring out how to make a living in a world where copying will get easier and easier. They’re like blacksmiths meeting to figure out how to protect the horseshoe racket by sabotaging railroads.

Arnezami from the Doom9 forum describes the moment:

But then I realized why I first didn’t find the Media Key: it was removed from memory after the Volume ID was retrieved and the VUK calculated. I also saw that in my “corrupt” memdump the VUK, Vol ID, Media Key and the Title Key MAC were all closely clustered in memory: in the first 50kb (of the entire multi megabyte file!) but there were large empty parts around it. Almost as if it was cleaned up. This gave me an idea: what I wanted to do is “record” all changes in this part of memory during startup of the movie. Hopefully I would catch something insteresting. In the end I did something a little more effiecient: I used the hd dvd vuk extractor (thanks ape!) and adapted it to slow down the software player (while scanning its memory continously) and at the very moment the Media Key (which I now knew: my bottom-up approach really paid off here) was detected it halted the player. I then made a memdump with WinHex. I now had the feeling I had something.

And I did. Not suprisingly the very first C-value was a hit. I then checked if everyting was correct, asked for confirmation and here we are.

Gates says TV is doomed, Internet where it’s at

Speaking to business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bill Gates looked deep into his crystal ball and prognosticated that in 5 years, TV will be a lame duck and watching video on the internet will be all the rage. Way to go out on a limb Bill.

“Certain things like elections or the Olympics really point out how TV is terrible. You have to wait for the guy to talk about the thing you care about or you miss the event and want to go back and see it,” he said. Tivo has been doing this for years, and most cable and satellite providers offer PVR options.  Maybe Bill just doesn’t watch a lot of TV.

From Grant Robertson @ Download Squad, “What wider adoption of internet distributed video will bring and what the heads of major networks and news organizations should be up nights worrying about is democratization of content creation. More and more we’re finding great entertainment in low-buck, short format indie video and, in five years, the upper echelon of 15-24 year olds who are currently rocking the funny on sites like YouTube will be a force to reckon with, possibly even taking notches out of networks like Fox and NBC.

What’s stopping this all from happening immediately? Two things, monetization of content and a simple and ubiquitous TV/internet convergence device. For certain, any company who manages to solve either of those problems and catch the wave of public acceptance is headed for a big payday.”

History Channel To Air Special on Star Trek

The History Channel will air a documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy (Spock) next month about the Star Trek phenomenon. Produced to celebrate the franchise’s 40th anniversary, “Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier” features interviews with many of the stars and crew from the four spinoff series, at look at the fandom, and its cultural impact

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Siemens vs. Microsoft on IPTV (Part One of Two)

Over at ITVT, there is a two part interview with representatives from Siemens and Microsoft debating their varying approaches to IPTV technologies and the market. Of course, I am biased as my team and I make many of the decisions about the Siemens approach to the market as well as many of the technology choices in our solution.
It will be very interesting to hear the Microsoft marketing machine as they respond to our perspective as captured in part one.   The Microsoft marketing machine has typically done a very good job in “responding” to critical reviews of their IPTV solution.
For those of you who don’t understand the approach Microsoft has taken in IPTV, it is typical Microsoft.  Take the best ideas from the market leaders (embrace), and modify the established approach to enhance your competitive position (extend).  Classic Microsoft.
For IPTV,  Microsoft used several plays from this well worn playbook. For example, Microsoft embraced much of the established ideas in IPTV, but they created a new concept they called “instant channel change”.  Before Microsoft came into the market, no one knew they needed and “instant” channel change, but Microsoft’s marketing team convinced the market that IPTV could be better only if it included instantaneous channel changing.  In my view, this is not exactly the kind of disruptive feature a telco needs to convince a customer to leave cable or satellite and move to IPTV.
What Microsoft did not tell customers, was that to achieve “instant” channel change,  it would require a completely revamped broadcast architecture, deviating from accepted IPTV architectures, extensive use of unicast, and a complete dependency on Microsoft technology (codec, DRM, streaming servers etc.).  Complete technology lock in and reliance on Microsoft.  Who really benefited from instant channel change, well Microsoft, of course.  As we and others began to question the market value of such a feature, the market took a critical look at Microsoft’s approach.
In the end, the technological complexity (think cost, $$$) required to achieve this effect and the fact that it relied on Microsoft server software (which everyone knows is not even close to carrier grade), could not be justified by the business case.  Will instant channel change come to a TV near you, possibly, but a number of vendors have shown how to achieve the same result in a standards based fashion–with no Microsoft lock in.
Instant channel change is just one example, but Microsoft has been very quiet about most of their competitive differentiators as of late.  Why?  Well, they are under the gun to get AT&T working beyond trial subscribers.  Of course the Microsoft marketing machine would have us all believe they have “launched”, well that is a matter of perspective.  My belief is that AT&T cannot deploy anywhere, anytime to any subscriber nor can they market the service at full speed because Microsoft is still working through service debilitating bugs and cannot show the scalability that AT&T needs to go full speed ahead.