Video Idiocy 1 - Copy Protection

Last modified 1/19/01

To save a lot of verbiage, the following is entirely my opinion, I cannot prove statistically the points I make here. While treating these points as facts is probably wiser than listening to the entertainment industry position, you do so with the knowledge that I cannot give facts and figures in support of the positions here. If the reason for this is not obvious by the time you get done reading this page, there is no chance of explaining it to you. This is to avoid typing a zillion disclaimers as I go along.

How does an industry waste thousands or even millions of man-lives of time?

Copy protection.

The entertainment industry annually wastes staggering amounts of time on an ultimately losing battle to prevent people from copying various forms of entertainment. The amusing thing about this is that if they succeeded, they'd never understand why their profits plunged shortly after their success.

In both the video and computer software industries, manufacturers are constantly harping on lost revenue, the great bugaboo. Such observations as I have been able to make suggest that there is no such thing as lost revenue, and I suspect that the current level of revenue that the manufacturers enjoy is not in spite of copying, but because of it.

Looking at the world around me, I notice that all the really popular forms of entertainment all have one thing in common. They are easily copied. Video, audio, and computer software are all presently trivial to copy (even DVD, despite the copy-guards that wasted so much development time). Books are a pain to copy, and I shouldn't have to tell anyone about the literacy rate in the US. Everywhere I've looked, video and audio outlets outnumber bookstores by a hefty margin. In department stores the video and audio sections seem larger than the book sections, as do the computer software sections when they exist. {The DVD digital encryption has recently been cracked, some information can be found at the OpenDVD site. Other links to news and such can be found here.}

The problem with copy protection stems from the fact that the video industry (and in fact, any sort of software industry) over-values its products rather highly, with the result that piracy ensues. This is where the industry, showing a complete lack of connection to reality, screams the magic phrase, lost revenue. The problem with this is that they are not losing a darned thing.

If you pay much attention to the world around you, you will notice that a lot of people have hand-labeled video tapes that don't look like they came off of cable TV. One purchased video is likely to produce several clones. This is because the video industry hasn't learned that copy protection is nothing more than a delaying tactic. This is also the reason that video sales are as healthy as they are. An easily copied tape can allow for expense-spreading among several people, and therefore a copy is sold, the authors get money from this. Now, if it were actually possible to make copying of videos, audios and such impossible (not likely, given that every copy-protection form spawns a matching protection busting industry in a matter of months) and copies could not be made, it becomes much less likely that the first tape in the chain described above would be purchased., and the authors don't get money from that first tape.

The entertainment industry wants bullet-proof copy protection so that prices on products can be raised to stratospheric levels. The assumption is that most of the people currently pirating products will buy the products if they cannot be pirated. This assumption is a load of dingos' kidneys. Most of the people involved in pirating over-priced entertainment software would simply do without if it meant paying current or higher prices for it.

The lesson of DIVX should be noted here. The whole point of DIVX was to re-create the pay-per-view model, had it had anything that could have been described as success you can bet that the entertainment industry would have dropped all other video media like a hot rock.

My advice to the entertainment industry? Give it up. Stop trying to squeeze out impossible revenues based on unrealistic fantasies of value and prices. Any given bit of entertainment matter is worth, on average, very little more then the retail price of blank media. You are fighting a losing battle by the very nature of mass distribution. For every mind you hire to invent new copy guards, there are several hundred minds, most of them brighter than your hired one, who are willing to work out how to beat your system, and nobody has to pay them to do it. Some of them don't even watch video any more than necessary to beat the copy guards, they just have fun getting around it. You are expending money to no purpose. (The US government is also fond of throwing away money battling opponents who can outclass them in terms of resources.)

Copy-protection is a waste for other reasons. The entertainment industry forced manufacturers of DVD players to include circuits to deliberately create the nonstandard signal known as Macrovision. (The signal does not meet the interconnect specifications.) Now, if you have an old TV, there are no video-level inputs on the set, and you have to connect the DVD player to a VCR to use it. Many TVs don't seem to be bothered by Macrovision, (many projection units get a bit out of sorts) but VCRs can be. Macrovision takes advantage of a design flaw in many early VCRs, mainly VHS models, Betas were immune until recently, when the flaw appears to have been added to current models. The upshot of this is that if you have an old TV and want to use a DVD player, you must either buy a new TV, not a good idea for the next decade (digital conversion forced in the US) unless you have money to burn or have to replace a dead set, or buy a cheap signal fixer, available off-the-shelf at major store chains. An example is the Sima CopyMaster , which can enable you to make copies of your old home videos by correcting for various signal deficiencies and appears to regard Macrovision as such a deficiency. You can then put the fixer between your DVD player and your VCR, so that the VCR gets a signal that meets the interconnection specifications, which it then modulates on the RF output to your TV. Or, another alternative: An industry has sprung up in modified DVD players, which have Macrovision disabled, and also fixes the region control system. (By disabling it.) Go visit CodeFreeDVD or Planet 3000 for some examples.

Note that almost any worthwhile device for manipulating video signals will generally delete Macrovision as a side-effect, so if you cannot find devices specifically for the removal of Macrovision, (attorney attacks on the makers) look for a device that fixes damaged signals, these will usually address the problem. A time-base corrector works well. For far more detailed information on Macrovision, see the Macrovision FAQ.

The least-waste approach would be for the entertainment industry to accept reality, and try to target their pricing in that margin between the retail price of blank media and the point (only a few dollars difference here) where piracy starts to take off. The industry cost of production of a DVD, or for that matter any entertainment software, is certainly less than the retail cost of blank media, and if it isn't, the competence of the industry must be called into question. Living in that margin would address the piracy problem for the most part. There will always be some people who pirate materials on some sort of oddball principle.

Going back to the revenue issue. There are no remotely likely circumstances in which the projected revenues the entertainment industry are anything but demented fantasies. Being more realistic about pricing might help rather a lot, though. The retailers have this figured out. While the discounts vary, I haven't found any retailer yet that actually uses MSRP on DVDs for sale. Storefronts have been doing 10 to 20% discounts off MSRP, the on-line retailers have been doing 30% for most current titles, 40% for pre-orders, and sometimes 40% for current hot titles and 50% for expected-hot preorders. They have reasons for this. The storefronts, having to maintain all that expensive real estate, are somewhat limited in how much they can shave, but they obviously feel that they are getting more out of the discount than they are losing from it. The on-line retailers, generally having to maintain only a few facilities that only employees, suppliers, and delivery companies ever get to see, can shave their margins thinner and still make a profit.

Entertainment industry, this is your wake-up call. Is anyone there? Hello.....

I have some other comments on poor video planning, these are addressed in Video Idiocy 2 - Video releases: What are they thinking? Are they thinking?

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Macrovision is a trademark of some fairly bright people who figured out that they could get the entertainment industry to give them a lot of money in exchange for a false sense of security.

Random thought: Since the purpose of Macrovision is to make equipment malfunction, shouldn't it be prosecutable under some or another sabotage legislation?