High definition DVDs have always had two, and only two, purposes: to impose significant new barriers to your free use of the content on them by adding new layers of DRM; and to try to create an incentive for you to replace your DVDs.

The entertainment industry absolutely adored selling us the same content a second time as we converted our collections from LPs to CDs, and from videotapes to DVDs. We’re not likely to do that again: Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs offer relatively trivial improvements in video quality, and most people think conventional DVDs look pretty darned good, even on HD TVs. Almost no one will replace a conventional DVD with a high-def DVD of the same content, just as no one was interested in upgrading their audio CDs to SACD or DVD-Audio discs. (You never heard of those formats? Well, that’s my point, really.)

That leaves the entertainment industry in a tough position, because the only other reason for Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs to exist is for their increased security. The industry squabble between the two formats has nothing to do with consumer satisfaction; it’s about which format will be more effective at locking down the content. (And money. It’s always about money.) When you set up your new Blu-Ray or HD-DVD equipment, technical barriers will be in place to prevent you from recording the content on a computer, or using any portion of it in a creative project, or playing it on unapproved equipment, or a host of other restrictions.

That’s why it’s significant that the security on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD movies has apparently been completely broken. Here’s Cory Doctorow’s description from Boing-Boing:

“Arnezami, a hacker on the Doom9 forum, has published a crack for extracting the “processing key” from a high-def DVD player. This key can be used to gain access to every single Blu-Ray and HD-DVD disc.

“Previously, another Doom9 user called Muslix64 had broken both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD by extracting the “volume keys” for each disc, a cumbersome process. This break builds on Muslix64’s work but extends it — now you can break all AACS-locked discs.

“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.

“The railroad is coming. The tracks have been laid right through the studio gates. It’s time to get out of the horseshoe business.”

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