Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, Part Two

I say that Mickey Mouse hates FireWire, but in reality, it was Michael Eisner, the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company (Disney Studios), who was particularly hostile towards all things digital. In 2002, Mike threw off the mouse ears, headed to Washington and started wailing away at Bay Area legends Steve Jobs and Andy Grove. When testifying before the Senate concerning copy protection, Eisner lashed out at Silicon Valley by saying “We’re dealing with an industry where an unspoken strategy is that the killer app is piracy.” This is a man whose career was build by going into failing companies (Disney) and turning them around. In his words, 'You can't fall off the floor.' A turn around strategy leads to some pretty harsh tactics.

Disney was influential in the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Various copy protection technologies were evaluated by the MPAA with the technology of choice being DVI using HDCP copy protection. HDCP implements a “copy never” form of copy protection. This never gives the consumer the ability to make a backup copy of a DVD or to even record content from the cable box to be viewed later. This was unpopular with cable customers so the cable industry implemented a PVR where compressed video is recorded to a hard drive inside the cable box but it cannot leave the cable box via any transport mechanism but DVI (which was later upgraded and renamed to HDMI). DVI (and HDMI) prohibited any of the video being sent over them from being recorded. Not only did their copy protection technology prohibit this but they provided an additional fail-safe incase HDCP was ever cracked (which it was fairly easily by hackers in Europe). Before leaving the cable box, video is uncompressed and sent over DVI. Therefore, any consumer recording device would not be able to record the content if HDCP copy protection was removed. A video tape would fill up in a matter of minutes. A large hard drive would also run out of space (100 meg was large back in 2002). An MPEG encoder would have to be added to recompress the video and that was expensive and far beyond the capability of the average consumer. Hollywood was once again safe from the average consumer. The same people who give them billions of dollars each year to watch their movies.

But this did nothing to provide the consumer with the ability to control the content they paid for from the cable companies. The FCC had to enforce the Section 629 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The MPAA had won the day, but the war was far from over. 1394 was down but not out.

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