2010-01-12

Disney’s KeyChest: Making DRM bearable

What is one of the biggest advantages of digital video? Distributing it is cheap and simple, it is always just an internet download away. Well, from the standpoint of the video industry, that is also its biggest disadvantage. Because pirating content is simpler, getting paid for it is also becoming more difficult. Thus, while it can be considered an impediment to technical progress, video DRM won’t go away as long as the industry considers it vital for its survival. The main hassle for consumers is that there are many competing DRM standards: Flash video DRM, Windows Media DRM, iTunes video DRM, etc. Thus, if you have rented a video on one device, say, your desktop computer, then that does not mean you’ll be able to play it on another device, say, you mobile phone. Disney’s KeyChest is a proposal that might make DRM more bearable for consumers: A central agency registers the digital videos one owns or has rented. Ownership and/or rental rights are then enabled for all participating DRM systems. This is a conceptual shift from ownership to access rights and opens up all kinds of possibilities: Buy a Blu-ray Disc, then download a file for your mobile video player; have all your videos stored on the Internet and stream them to your computer to watch them; etc. Short-term, KeyChest is a good idea. Long-term, we hopefully won’t need it. Whether or not DRM goes away also depends on how the audio industry fares with its decision to make all audio content DRM-free. In a perfect future, we will all be able to freely share content while the people who created it get compensated adequately.

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