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Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Industry blamed for missing content-protection deadline

Computer companies, consumer electronics vendors and Hollywood studios have failed to meet a self-imposed deadline for agreeing to a watermarking technology for DVD movies, moving the technology back to the drawing boards once again. The DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) had worked for months on the evaluation and selection of an enhanced copy-protection technology for DVDs, but couldn't reach a decision by Aug. 1, the group's appointed deadline.

DVD CCA, a not-for-profit corporation that licenses the content scrambling system to makers of DVD hardware, disks and related products, had placed a gag order on its board of directors, limiting the ability of outsiders to learn why no watermarking technology emerged after the group's deadline.

But Brad Hunt, senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), attending the International Broadcasting Convention here, told EE Times that the DVD CCA's latest effort to select a watermarking technology had failed largely because "the computer industry, at the eleventh hour, decided not to support the concept of watermarks."

Sources in the computer and consumer electronics industries disputed the MPAA executive's claim, stating that talks had collapsed because none of the watermarking technology proposals proved viable after months of testing.

Marlin Blizinsky, a lawyer working on the regulation and standards strategy program at Microsoft Corp., acknowledged that he voted "no" to the watermark proposal at the DVD CCA board meeting, but said his decision was based on a personal, independent analysis on the issue. "I was never told how to vote on this by my employer," he said.

Blizinsky said he was primarily concerned with two issues related to the watermark technology. "The first was how much it costs to put the technology into place, and [the second was] what it does to your machine."

For example, one of the watermarking proposals discussed by DVD CCA but not among the finalists that were considered, would have made Microsoft's X-Box gaming consoles incapable of playing DVDs, Blizinsky said. "We needed to balance the cost and benefits of the technology . . . and in my opinion, the balance between the two was significantly off."

Down the 'analog hole'

Skip Pizzi, manager of media standards and regulation at the Windows New Media Platforms Division of Microsoft, suggested that the DVD CCA's case of the yips on watermarking may impact the ongoing, contentious "analog hole issue."

Hollywood studios are pressuring electronics manufacturers to provide copy protection for analog transmissions of music and movies. The problem is that digital systems could intercept unprotected analog transmissions, digitize the stream and make high-quality digital copies of it. Studios want analog content to have equivalent protection to what is now available for digital media.

Both sides agree that watermarking should be used to identify and protect analog music and movie streams, but they differ over how the watermark would be implemented and detected.

A group of studios have proposed a government mandate that all A/D and D/A converters should be made capable of detecting and responding to a watermark — a proposal that component and consumer electronics companies believe would add a significant costs to traditionally low-priced products. A group of technology companies, including Intel Corp., have submitted a proposal suggesting a detection/response mechanism be implemented at an OEM's discretion in systems-level players and recorders.

"The real debate is what's the best way for devices to check for a watermark," said Stephan Balogh, a business development manager who works on copy-protection issues at Intel Architecture Labs (Hillsboro, Ore.). "The studios are really beating that drum very hard right now," Balogh said of the analog issue.

Aside from the DVD CCA's indecision on a watermarking technology, a larger debate in technology circles involves which components or systems should bear the cost of detecting and responding to watermarks in analog media.

"That's what a lot of the discussions are about. Whoever is going to provide the detection takes on an additional cost and still may not solve all the [security] problems," said Intel's Balogh. "The last thing we want to do is put circuitry in a CPU that's useless to an end user."

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