Blu-ray's "managed copy" feature has been a long time coming, but studios are now being asked to support it on their discs even without test hardware. One industry insider describes the process to Ars. So does it work? We won't know until some time in 2010!
"I started panicking about a month ago," says Jason Rosenfeld, the founder of Scenic Labs. The company makes Blu-ray 1080p "ambient discs" that include titles like "The Classic Fireplace," "Coral Reef Aquarium," and "Journey Through Space," and Rosenfeld was trying to figure out how to enable Blu-ray's forthcoming "managed copy" feature for his discs.
As one of the first companies to turn out discs with the "managed copy" logo on the back, though, Rosenfeld soon learned the pitfalls of being an early adopter—especially when no test hardware exists. We asked him about the experience of supporting a spec that's still in the "blueprint" phase.
Managed copy means that Blu-ray players will soon be able to contact authorization servers, look up the copying rules for a particular title, and offer consumers the ability to make DRMed copies of the movie in question. Each studio can set different limits on the number of copies allowed and the price charged for these copies. Studios are supposed to be supporting managed copy now by authoring discs that can take advantage of it, but managed copy required player hardware support before such a copy can be made. That support won't arrive widely until the middle of next year, so Rosenfeld was unable to test his discs. He began having nightmares of customers showing up at his virtual doorstep in 2010, complaining that managed copy didn't work with their players.
But it costs money to make changes to a master and ship it off to a disc replicator, and Rosenfeld wanted to be careful. His team contacted others in the business and even went straight to AACS-LA, the licensing consortium that handles the AACS DRM on Blu-ray titles.
Definitive answers were tough to come by, but Scenic Labs eventually concluded that it had to make only two changes. First, its discs needed to include a unique ISAN number (a bit like a serial number, but there's only one per title, not a unique number for each physical disc), and Scenic Labs secured its number from the primary North American ISAN registrar, Secure Path.
Second, Blu-ray discs contain a manifest.xml file that needed to include one additional line with a URI pointing to an authorization server. Those servers will eventually be run either by movie studios or directly by AACS-LA, but none are currently operational. Rosenfeld's small company had no desire to set up and administer a conforming server of their own, so they include a link to the AACS-LA server pool. Then they authored the discs as usual.
If that sounds a bit confusing, you're not alone; even those in the industry aren't clear on how managed copy will play out. That's because all the key details, such as how the servers process business rules and what copy options are available, aren't even known yet. At this point, managed copy consists of little more than a serial number and a website; in 2010, AACS will then allow companies to fill out forms describing their copy rules and pricing schemes.
How will the feature be activated? There's also been confusion on this, but Rosenfeld says that the latest word he received was that managed copy would appear as a disc option (rather than a player option)—but only on players that support the feature. How will payment details be handled? Who knows!
As one of the first people to adopt managed copy, Rosenfeld certainly hopes his company did the job right; he can't verify that without hardware, but he has no desire to pay additional fees to a disc replicator in order to send over new masters if a mistake was made.
He's not opposed to the system and understands why studios care so much about DRM, but Rosenfeld has a different perspective on his own business. Piracy is going to happen—that's one of his axioms, and if it's correct, it means "you're only ever hurting the people who pay for the product." In other words, you're inconveniencing your own customers.
Leaving AACS off his discs was not an option unless Scenic Labs burned them to BD-Rs in its own facility—an option that was neither cheap nor fast. Another option for making copies simple would be to allow an "always copy" flag… but again, this only works on BD-Rs, not commercial discs.
So Scenic Labs plans to make its managed copy rules as lax as possible. If there was some error in implementing managed copy, Rosenfeld doesn't plan on fixing his discs but instead on making a free Internet download available. "Take a picture of the disc with your cell phone" and Scenic Labs will send a link to a file—that's the backup plan.
Source: ars technica