Archive for the ‘DRM’ Category

Digital Watermarks: Can they save copyright?

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

Everyone knows that illegal downloads can’t be stopped (except, maybe the MPAA, but they’ve been deluded for a while about speech issues). That could seem kind of depressing if you are a filmmaker who’s just maxxed out a few credit cards and hit up every friend you have making a movie with no obvious hope of recouping. Some people have said that we should just dump copyright altogether since it’s unenforceable. But copyright was created to protect artists who put their original ideas and execution into a work so that they could control how money is made from the work. This doesn’t seem like an idea that should be abandoned just because technology has changed.

One potential solution might be digital watermarking. Instead of DRM, which tried to determine where the content can be used, watermarking just tries to track where the content is going and what is its source. The watermark, which is invisible, can be embedded with other useful information like film title, cast list, synopsis, etc. so that it is desirable to retain for those exchanging the file. It’s a way for the filmmaker, distributor, or content provider to mark otherwise anonymous files as having a maker. The Digital Watermarking Alliance, an advocacy group for watermarking technology, commissioned a study that claimed that using a digital serial number rather than DRM would cause “Active sharing via file-sharing applications [to] decline by one-half overall, a little less among
BitTorrent users, a little more among P2P network users.”

Watermarks have their problems. They are relatively easy to break or “attack” though some argue that there is less reason to destroy a watermark than DRM since it doesn’t impede the user experience and in fact can enhance it. But once a file with a broken watermark is released to the downloading stream, it will propogate.

The ideal watermark would not ever prevent the viewer from watching the file. If a user attempted to remove the watermark, the file might become degraded. The same thing might happen if the file were altered. Of course, anything you can do to something digitally can be cracked. But if there wasn’t a motive for the average user to get rid of the watermark, it seems like it could gain traction.

In the future, it seems likely that the per-user costs really will be free or subscription-based. But commercial uses, i.e. the content providers, cable companies, Netflix, etc. who are making money from having the content, should still be on the hook. Watermarks might be a way to preserve authorship while keeping the files flowing.

Are the days of artists owning their work over, when work can be infinitely replicated? Should content producers just look for new revenue sources?

RiP: A Remix Manifesto in the tradition of mainfestos past

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

I recently got a chance to check out RiP: A REMIX MANIFESTO, the Canadian documentary that takes a look at copyright (and the mashup artist Girl Talk) in a kind of method way- the producers, EYESTEELFILM, and director, Brett Gaylor decided that since the costs of licensing all the expensive music in the film would be prohibitive, and since the film was about these costs, it would essentially be fair use to go ahead and use whatever they wanted (including network footage, usually very expensive) and just see what happens.

It’s a pretty interesting concept, and though the film does paint the issue in overly black and white terms (the CopyRIGHT vs. the Copy LEFT), by the end, Gaylor has raised some interesting issues about the state of copyright, though I’m not sure many of them are answered. Hope to have a discussion with one of the producers which will be here soon.

It’s definitely worth seeing especially if you enjoy the Girl Talk phenomenon- I met him a few weeks ago at a show and was impressed- he’s totally into giving a great performance- which is all the more remarkable given that his performance is pushing some buttons. And, in keeping with the mashup philosophy, if you don’t like the film (or especially if you do) you can make your own version at OpenSourceCinema.

Sony's "Open Market" could open the Digital Market- a little

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

TechCrunch reports today on a move by the major studios to protect digital media through a DRM scheme called Open Market.  Rather than bow to the the individual protections of a single retailer, otherwise known as iTunes, the studios are working with about 30 different retailers and portals, including Amazon, Best Buy, Direct TV, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile, Target, Wal-Mart, and others to create a system whereby any digital media available through the participating companies would be subject to third party encryption that would only work on registered devices.  (Essentially, you could only play the movie on a device you had registered in advance for the purpose of ‘using’ that file).

This could be good news for indies, since it has been shown time and again how distasteful these kind of DRM methods are to consumers, who want to be able to use media they paid for when and where they want it, as they would a DVD.  If indies are able to market their downloadable products on Amazon or other portals as DRM-free (or at least, not “Open Market”) it may be a selling point.

Politics II: Watermarkworld

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Tim Lee has posted his response to Rasmus Fleischer’s proposal to ditch copyright law at Cato Unbound, making the hardly strident but accurate point that copyright law is still functional outside the digital realm.

In that domain, a reader comments on my earlier post:

I think the general consensus among folk who study this stuff is that watermarking — and a variety of schemes have been floated for years now — isn’t really going to be that helpful. The large-scale distribution content firms worry about, as on p2p networks, typically involves skilled geeks who can strip away every form of watermark yet devised with minimal trouble, so watermarking won’t stop untraceable copies from getting into circulation there (all you need is one clean copy). On the other hand, you have small-fry casually sharing a song or DVD with a couple friends, who might leave the watermark in, but are unlikely to get on the copyright enforcement radar screen.

That has probably been true in the past, but as we go forward it’s possible a new model may emerge that will be more conducive to the watermark- that of audience profit participation. In an ad-based profit model, for example, one way of incentivizing tracking and data collection in general may be to let the viewers actually get paid (or rewarded in some way) for watching films.

The politcs of reproduction

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Digital distribution isn’t just a quandary for filmmakers or “the industry”- politicians are worried about it too. Just how copyright law can be maintained, transformed, or judged gratuitous is something that the Congress is grappling with (though unsurprisingly, not in a very productive way).

Over at think tank Cato’s Unbound, which operates in a kind of debate format, Rasmus Fleischer has posted his argument as to why the entire Copyright law is superfluous, essentially because in the digital age, all media is so easy to copy that it is not possible to protect works from being duplicated without payment.

Though this leaves out the issue of protection of the original work entirely, even at a basic digital level it seems to me it is possible to imbue works with some kind of authorship, though it is clear that the ease of copying files makes it difficult to prevent duplication.

Technology-wise, there seems to be a plan afoot to imbue source files with a digital watermark- so that the files could still be copied but where they came from would be reflected in their DNA. While serious pirates might work to get around such marking, the average person would not probably object- especially if the cost involved was either not direct to the consumer or came as part of some kind of subscription-based plan (the days of individual-download pricing do seem numbered).

Filmmakers may not see the value in copyright anymore. As Fleischer suggests, many forward-thinking indie filmmakers are moving to a community model for distribution and making money, an “added value” experience for viewers who can participate in more than just watching a film. One problem is that without protections, other people can make money off your film too, and if their distribution network is already established, they may shut you out of your own release.

Tim Lee will be rebutting the article tomorrow at Cato Unbound. Stay tuned.

INTERVIEW- Karin Chien- dGeneration

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

As digital distribution evolves, it seems likely that smaller operations will benefit from serving niche markets- both to concentrate sales efforts and to become more attractive to advertisers.

dGenerate is a new distribution project set to launch this summer that partners American indie producers, Chinese filmmakers, and Tribeca Film Institute and TFI’s Amazon digital distribution partnership Reframe. dGenerate head Karin Chien was kind enough to share some information about this exciting new venture.

(ICI): How did you come up with the idea for dGenerate?

Karin: Honestly, the idea came rather unexpectedly on a chilly January night in New York City, via 4 degrees of separation.

A panel at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) connected me with Andrew Gluckman and Wei Wei Shannon, of People’s Architecture, who introduced me to Ou Ning, a filmmaker in Beijing, who I introduced to Alexandra Chang at NYU’s APA Studies Institute. Alexandra agreed to host a screening of one of Ou Ning’s projects, and while watching the film, I found myself blown away by its content, visuals, and production methodology. It felt to me like discovering unknown treasure, further confirmed by Ou Ning’s assurances that his film was just one of many examples of visionary filmmaking happening in China today.

So, in the time it took to walk from NYU to Andrew and Wei Wei’s apartment, I hatched the idea for dGenerate Films. It took another 9 months, however, of false starts and going at it alone to figure out that I needed a team of collaborators, and a trip to China, to properly make the thought a reality.

(ICI): How did you connect with Tribeca Film Institute and Reframe?

Karin: Through a friend of mine, Diana Williams, who sits on Renew Media’s board. (Renew recently merged with TFI).

Diana connected me with TFI’s executive director, Brian Newman, to discuss a Chinatown Film exhibition that I’m producing for MOCA. Brian and I met at Sundance about my MOCA project, and after the meeting, we boarded the same Sundance shuttle bus, where we made small talk. I happened to mention my idea for dGenerate, and Brian told me about Reframe. It immediately made sense – without Reframe’s digital delivery capacities, and non-profit mandate, distributing these films would be too difficult to attempt. Since that fateful shuttle ride, Brian and all the folks at Reframe and TFI have been hugely supportive of our efforts.

(ICI): Do you feel that Asian films have any particular advantage in the VOD/digital marketplace?

Karin: I think the VOD/digital marketplace is set up to serve niche markets in particular. At least right now. I wouldn’t say Asian films have an advantage. But I can say that without digital delivery, dGenerate would not be happening.

Besides Reframe, a number of VOD, streaming and download sites have already asked to license our content. What might also be a factor is that no other American distributor is dedicated to sourcing and distributing independent Chinese films.

(ICI): What will be your strategy for marketing films that haven’t had the benefit of a theatrical release here? Do you think people are very invested in the review system of meritizing films?

Karin: Our marketing strategy is based on our target audience. Which for now is the educational market. As a way to get to know our audience, and to introduce these films to them, we are conducting informational meetings with top scholars and academics across disciplines, as well as listening to the needs of programmers and curators of cultural institutions. We will have a full arsenal of traditional marketing tools as well: trailers, postcards, catalogues, newsletters, conference attendance, and a multimedia website.

But given that we are a company invested in digital delivery, the online space is an important one for us. We are planning to create what I call “intellectual networking,” as opposed to review-driven marketing. Our site will be a place where scholars, critics, curators, programmers, etc can contribute critical content about our films, as well as thoughts about independent Chinese cinema. Critical content will include essays and blog entries but also podcasts and video essays, which point to new ways of consuming film criticism. “Intellectual networking” will give our target audience a way to understand the films through the words of their peers.

(ICI): What kind of technical challenges are there for this type of distribution?

Karin: Formats differ across countries, but Reframe is able to digest almost any type of video or print master, which makes our technical challenges quite small. The main challenges of this type of distribution are not technical, I would say.

(ICI): What, for you, is the most exciting aspect of this type of distribution?

Karin: The films. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think some incredibly exciting things were happening in independent Chinese cinema. Also, as a Chinese-American, I’m personally invested in disseminating diverse perspectives from inside China. Nearly all documentaries, for example, that American audiences see about mainland China are not made by mainland Chinese filmmakers.

(ICI): When/how can we expect to see dGenerate films available for VOD or download?

Karin: We plan to launch in August 2008, in preparation for the academic calendar. Films will be available for educational DVD or download-to-rent for the public by September.

We have been approached by VOD outlets, but are still in talks. No launch date for VOD yet.