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Transforming Copy Protection from Roadblock to Rosetta Stone

By John P. Mello Jr.
Sep 2, 2004 6:00 AM PT

The words "copy protection" make Adam Gervin wince. Gervin is senior marketing director for the entertainment technologies group at Macrovision, in Santa Clara, California. Macrovision is a company best known for cooking up ways to thwart the copying of movies and music from tapes and discs.

Transforming Copy Protection from Roadblock to Rosetta Stone

He's also point man in Macrovision's quest -- through a new release next quarter of its CD protection software, CDS-300 version 7.0 -- to recast its image from foe to friend of copying.

"We don't see the primary value of this product as being copy-protection," he said of the upcoming release of CDS-300.

"That isn't just marketing spin," he told TechNewsWorld. "When you create technologies like DRM [Digital Rights Management], portable players, jukeboxes and electronic stores, you create a tower of babble of standards."

Gervin maintained that Macrovision can create tremendous value for its products by allowing them to manage that tower of babble in a way that benefits both consumers and content owners, producers and distributors.

Management and Enhancement

"There's underlying level of protection that goes along with making DRM viable," he admitted, "but most of our work into our new products is going into music management and enhancement."

He maintained that the upcoming edition of CDS-300 will be Macrovision's first version to embrace that concept by supporting the most popular portable music players and jukeboxes of today, including Apple's iTunes and iPod.

"We see that as a launching pad for a bunch of exciting things beyond Q4," he said. "There's a lot of opportunity to take music in new directions and provide more value to a consumer after they purchase a CD."

That added value, he continued, can include staying in touch with a band, exclusive opportunities to get additional content and the ability of a user to express creativity with the music.

It will also include software that will act as a kind of Rosetta Stone for the proliferating number of DRM schemes confronting consumers, he revealed.

When consumers attempt to rip music from CDs secured by Macrovision, that software will examine their computers, determine which music applications reside there, automatically create a tune with the appropriate DRM for that application and write it to their hard disk.

Burning with a Catch

Those tracks, however, will contain Macrovision's DRM, too, which will place additional restrictions on the tune. For example, consumers won't be able write tracks protected by DRM to an audio CD and then rip them from that CD to evade the DRM protection.

"You can't do the rip-the-disc to get around the DRM," Gervin said. "But you know what? You don't need to because you have all of the portability that you could ever want."

What's more, Macrovision's software will allow consumers to create playlists of songs from any major jukebox -- including purchased songs -- and burn them to a single CD.

Seamless Management Key

Before Macrovision's grand scheme can take hold, consumers must be assured that if they buy a secure CD, they'll be able to do what they want to do with its contents, Gervin explained.

"That can only happen," he reasoned, "if we provide a layer of seamless management over the DRM so the user gets the same experience in the DRM world that they did when there was no protection."

"That's why I don't want to call it protection," he said. "As soon as you say that, you bring out a product concept that's very consumer unfriendly and is created to say no."

Selling Consumers on DRM

"There's no doubt that an unprotected disc still provides the best unfettered options for consumers," he continued. "There's no way around that. But we hope, by focusing our effort on making portability in the DRM world as great as possible -- and providing extras like our compilation technology -- I think consumers will see the value of a music management and enhancement interface."

Those views are shared by Macrovision's chief competitor, SunnComm, of Phoenix, Arizona.

This spring, the company released a version of its CD security software that allows consumers to copy a protected audio CD a limited number of times. The copies can be played in any device that can play CDs, but they can't be copied.

Consumers Need Backups

"People need to make backup copies of their songs one way or another," CTO Eric Vanderwater told TechNewsWorld.

SunnComm's new version of its protection software also will convert tracks on a protected disc to computer files protected by Microsoft's DRM scheme. Those files can be played on portable players compatible with that scheme.

Adding support for Microsoft's DRM has made garnering Apple's cooperation with SunnComm even more important, according to Vanderwater.

"We need to provide a solution where the users of iTunes can use the content on a CD the way they're used to using it but in a cop-managed environment that includes copying content from the CD onto the iPod in a protected format," he said.

"We acknowledge that that is a very important feature that needs to be addressed as soon as possible," he noted.

"We want to support fair use as much as possible," he declared. "Our technology is agnostic as far as what DRM technology is out there. Any DRM maker in the marketplace that's willing to work with us to convert our content into their DRM format, we will implement."

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