Cinavia DRM: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blu-ray’s Self-Destructionby Ganesh T S on March 21, 2012 11:00 AM EST
Studios, Blu-ray system manufacturers, and consumers have different requirements with respect to the DRM measures adopted in Blu-rays. The ideal scenario for consumers would be the complete absence of DRM, but this is obviously unacceptable to the content owners. The Blu-ray industry seems to be under the impression that consumers are fairly happy with the current state of content protection used in Blu-rays. Is this really true?
In our opinion, it is the studios and the Blu-ray system manufacturers who have had the say in deciding upon the suitability of a particular DRM scheme. Consumers have had to put up with whatever has been thrust upon them. The rise in popularity of streaming services (such as Netflix and Vudu) which provide instant gratification should make the Blu-ray industry realize its follies. The only reason that streaming services haven't completely phased out Blu-rays is the fact that a majority of the consumers don't have a fast and reliable Internet connection. Once such connections become ubiquitous, most of the titles owned by consumers would probably end up being stored in the cloud. The Blu-ray industry has thankfully taken note of this and started in earnest towards making their UltraViolet initiative successful amongst consumers. Before talking in detail about how Blu-rays tend to frustrate consumers, we will take a small detour to analyze the effects of Cinavia.
Cinavia: An Exercise in Futility
Does Cinavia really help in tackling the piracy problem? We make the following assumptions:
- People interested in pirating movies are looking for instant gratification
- 'Piracy' has moved on from disc based copies (i.e, counterfeit DVDs) to standalone files (i.e, MKVs) when it comes to high definition content.
- People interested in backing up their purchased Blu-rays on hard drives do so in the ISO or folder backup format
As justification for (1), we note that most of the content available on P2P channels and one-click filehosters is in the form of MKVs with varying resolutions. When DVDs were popular, the Digital Media Adapter category of products was almost non-existent. Therefore, the bulk of piracy involving DVDs were based on disc-based copies. Counterfeit DVDs were common in the street markets of India and China. Nowadays, the same places are selling hard disks filled with pirated movies (MKVs, MP4s and AVIs).
The move from optical media to hard drives has been enabled by the rapid rise of Digital Media Adapters. We present this as justification for (2). Despite storage becoming cheaper by the day, pirates are still hesitant to spare 35 - 50 GB for a single movie. Only users who are ready to spend money to purchase Blu-rays are likely to spend money on storage to safeguard their investment.
Backups in the ISO or folder structure format retain all the information present on a Blu-ray after decryption. This removes all the annoyances associated with a protected Blu-ray disc. There are a host of other advantages to backing up Blu-rays on a hard drive which we will cover in the next section, but we present the above facts as justification for (3).
Now, consider the following 'piracy' scenarios involving Cinavia-infected soundtracks:
- User downloads a CAM print or similar copy of a theatrical screening protected by Cinavia: The Cinavia watermark detection will trigger only when the CAM print is played back on a suitable Blu-ray player. No 'pirate' worth his salt will be without a PC (with VLC) or a cheap $40 media player capable of playing back scene content of such quality. The Cinavia issues are easily bypassed by just using a media player which doesn't have the watermark detector.
- User purchases a Cinavia protected Blu-ray and backs it up in ISO / folder structure / MKV: Though the law might be taking a dim view of this process, it is only logical that a consumer who has already paid for a Blu-ray be able to enjoy it in any manner he wishes. The number of licensed Blu-ray players capable of playing unprotected ISOs is dwindling as the days go by. Recently, the Oppo BDP93 removed the unofficial capability of playing back Blu-ray ISOs in a firmware update. They cited pressure from studios as the main reason. In the absence of Blu-ray players with ISO support, users opt for DMAs such as Popcorn Hour A300 / WDTV Live / Boxee Box / etc. which have varying levels of support for Blu-ray backups. None of these are BDA certified and so they don't have a Cinavia watermark detector. Once we get open source software support for Blu-ray ISOs with full menus, Cinavia in such a situation will be rendered useless. Some positive steps have already started taking place in this respect, with VLC planning support for playback of Blu-rays with menus.
- User unknowingly purchases a pirated Cinavia protected Blu-ray disc under the impression that it is actually legal: In this situation, the Blu-ray player recognizes the Cinavia watermark, finds that the Blu-ray disc is not protected by AACS, and mutes the audio. This is one case where Cinavia is actually effective. However, the affected party is actually a counterfeiting victim himself. The case that the user has knowingly purchased a pirated Blu-ray disc doesn't arise (under our second assumption outlined at the beginning of this subsection).
Having followed the Blu-ray industry closely since its beginning, I have not heard claims from anyone about pirated Blu-ray discs being a problem. The MPAA believes (rightly so) that most of the piracy is happening on P2P networks and through one-click filehosters. We have seen that Cinavia is effective only in one piracy scenario, and that scenario is actually quite unlikely in real life.
Cinavia: The Truly Inconvenienced Minority
At this juncture, why are we devoting so much attention to Cinavia? As mentioned in an earlier section, there are premium DMAs like the Popcorn Hour C300 and the Dune Smart series that have a Blu-ray license also. The next generation version of these players may be forced to implement Cinavia support. Users with legitimate backups wanting the full Blu-ray experience and using such players will end up being affected. Our main aim with this piece is to appeal to the Blu-ray industry to consider personal backups as fair use and exempt ISO capable DMAs from Cinavia.
We hope the industry sees reason with the argument that ISOs are not the preferred medium for pirates. Instead, it is files in MKV format with sizes ranging from 4 to 20 GB that are most popular. The latter category is not played back with Cinavia enabled players, and hence, Cinavia is rendered useless. Once premium DMAs get infected with Cinavia detection routines, legitimate purchasers of Blu-rays who back up their collections will see no point in investing in optical discs. Their money would be better spent on purchasing movies from Vudu or any other similar avenue. If it comes to the worst, the Blu-ray industry may even end up driving the legitimate consumers to piracy. The word-of-mouth from such 'power consumers' will also lead to a negative impression of the Blu-ray industry amongst consumers.
The Blu-ray industry believes that a majority of the consumers don't back up their Blu-ray purchases, and may even try to convince them that Cinavia doesn't affect them in any way. Let us take a moment to analyze the people who really benefit from Cinavia. Is it the studios? As I clearly explained above, Cinavia is not going to help deter piracy or playback of (most) pirated material. Is it the consumer? Not really, as it is just a hassle at best and never a direct benefit. The real beneficiary is Verance.
Disc replicators / content providers pay four cents for each disc with Cinavia protected content. Production houses also have to provide $50 for each watermarked track. Blu-ray player manufacturers have to provide anywhere between $10,000 to $300,000 per annum depending on their unit volume if they want to embed a Cinavia detector in their firmware / software. Of course, Verance also strongly encourages its licensees to purchase the code for the watermark detector from them. We were not able to obtain an estimate of the price for the software. All these costs borne by the studios and the player manufacturers are eventually passed on down to the consumer. Note that these costs get amplified as they go through various middle-men down to the retail market. With licensing costs of other Blu-ray technologies going down as time goes by (and making Blu-ray discs and equipment cheaper for consumers), the BDA / AACS LA seems to have bucked the trend by burdening the consumers with another licensing entity to satisfy.