Macrovision Responds to Apple's "Thoughts on Music"

Today Fred Amoroso, CEO of Macrovision, (a company that has developed and implemented DRM technologies for nearly 25 years) responded to the Apple CEO's open letter "Thoughts on Music" with an open letter himself. The response, called To Steve Jobs and the Digital Entertainment Industry takes issue with Jobs on most points and notably opines:

  • DRM increases consumer value - by allowing cutomers to buy specific content for specific purposes, instead of for a specific device;
  • DRM increases the electronic distribution of content - if content creators are asked to "enter, or stay in a digital world that is free of DRM, without protection for their content, then there will be no reason for them to enter, or to stay if they've already entered. The risk will be too great."
  • DRM interoperability is key to its spread - widespread interchangeable use of DRM like FairPlay across multiple devices will mean the promulgation of DRM (leading to the benefits given above), and mean that consumers "are not held hostage to one company's products"

Macrovision's CEO thus joins the cacophany of voices calling for Apple to license FairPlay. Not surprisingly, he tells Jobs that his company will "offer to assist Apple in the issues and problems with DRM that you state in your letter. Should you desire, we would also assume responsibility for FairPlay as a part of our evolving DRM offering and enable it to interoperate across other DRMs, thus increasing consumer choice and driving commonality across devices."

It's clear that the big labels would like Apple to start licensing FairPlay; this would give Apple less control over the scheme (and eventually less influence over the labels) and maybe down the road FairPlay could be strengthened into something the labels are more comfortable with. For business reasons Macrovision and many hardware makers are of the same opinion and add to the pressure on Apple. It's also probable that in exchange for this loss of control, if Apple licensed FairPlay it could potentially become gatekeeper of an industry standard (much the same way that many Microsoft technologies are standard today), and as history shows us being gatekeeper of industry standards can be hugely profitable. So why does Apple resist these market forces?

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Multi-vendor DRM doesn't solve interoperability problems...

While Jobs didn't list the 4'rd option (Using a multi-vendor format), this format only passes the buck for interoperability choices to those encoding the content -- it does not solve any of the underlying problems with interoperability that exist in any DRM system.

Those who control the keys, control the platform. With something like AACS (Advanced Access Content System), there is going to be no way prior to purchasing content to know whether the content has been encoded in keys which "your" devices (those you have bought, but don't control) have. Your keys could have been revoked, or your device brand may never have made the necessary back-room deal with the content company in the first place.

While having 2 Microsoft, an Apple, and a Sony DRM for music may seem annoying, you can at least know ahead of time whether your purchase will work in your device. While I support AACS for political reasons (It puts all the blame on the content industry for interoperability problems), it will turn out to be far worse for compatibility than the status-quo. The expected failure of AACS is one of the reasons I prefer it, given my goal is to eradicate DRM entirely.

Full disclosure with AACS would require every package to list which models of devices (possibly even serial number ranges) are compatible. The more this multi-vendor DRM is deployed, the more people will realize the harm caused by all DRM systems. Contrary to the letter from Macrovision, there is (and can never be) an "Interoperable DRM" given one of the key components of any DRM system is a method to reduce interoperability to only "authorized" access devices. The entire concept of an Interoperable DRM is an oxymoron, and anyone who tries to claim otherwise is only trying to mislead their intended audience.

Macrovision, a company that gets a royalty cut on every VCR shipped and any "copy controlled" VHS movie, is spreading "humour" (OK, lies) by even being involved in a conversation about consumers being upset that they "are held hostage to one company's products". It was the content industries extremely bad experience with Macrovision that has made them very worried about vendor-specific content control in the first place. When the discussions about technology mandates through a "broadcast flag" broke down, it was largely because the industry didn't want to duplicate the mistakes they felt they made by adopting Macrovision. This turned some of the tech companies, like Microsoft, who had been supporters of the mandate to switch their opinion because they realized that they would be locked out. The content industry have the same mistrust of Microsoft that they do Macrovision.

Vcr's as RF Modulators

A lot of people when DVD player came out discovered Macrovision.

When it kicked in when useing there old VCR as a RF Modulator for there old TV's with no line in so they hooked the DVD to Line in to the VCR and the VCR to the Cable in on there TV.

When they tryed to play a DVD the Macrovision would kick in and they were disaponted. The worst part is it wasn't a tape they were trying to copy from one to the other. They just wanted to play a DVD in the kids room that they leagaly bought.

I am sure that this was unintended in the begining but it was a most hated sideffect for most people.
People that I know were not very happy.
There are a handfull of VCR's that worked very well for this.

There are RF modulators for this but most had a old VCR so why not use it.

I think this is the same thing that will happen when people try to use other products as gateways/Interfaces to use new products in the future. To make them hopefully work with there older hardware.

The worst thing is with any and all DRM systems there is no consumer/customer protaction against it going over the top like Sonys root kit. I am sure it will happen again with some company.

Also what happens if a product to be used has to go on line so you can watch or listen to the media that you leagly baught.

When the company selling it goes out of bussness and you can not listen or watch you media that you bought.

There should be a law or act that says when said company goes belly up the key should be released to the public or if a company gets sold the keys are still up or released to the public.

But we all know that TPM's and DRM's are just plain wrong

The Macrovision and the VCR for DVD watching on a old TV. Is a good example for most people that Copy control is wrong.

My 2 Watts

"I am sure that this was unintended"

Whether the technology was adequately understood by the content industry, these types of so-called "unintended consequences" are inherent in all forms of DRM. The first part of any DRM system is to reduce the interoperability of the content. With Macrovision the NTSC signal standard is deliberately violated in order to reduce interoperability with recording devices. The fact is that this is impossible to target exactly: there will always be false positives (IE: it will cause equipment like TVs to not work) and false negatives (IE: Some recording devices will still work fine).

In the case of this NTSC standard violation (IE: deliberate manufacturing defect), a simple device called Time Base Correctors will eliminate the errors in the signal, and allow all equipment (including recording devices) to work property. In the last 1980's I worked at an Amiga store as a hardware tech, and since we sold video editing hardware and software we had TBCs which I used more than once to fix defects in VHS tapes.

Like all so-called "copy control" or "DRM", Macrovision's VCR scheme is trivial to circumvent for those with the technical knowledge, can not stop mass copyright infringement, and discourages legal purchases by making the media less valuable.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.


I thought Macrovision messed up the AGC in a VCR.

Thats what I have always been told that it plays with the automatic gain control when recording.

But your right any DRM will have side effects that will spill over and create a interoperable nightmare or lock in users

My 2 Watts


automatic gain control

You are correct, but the part of the signal that is being corrupted that causes VCR's to do this when recording (IE: it is not the playing VCR doing this, but the recording one) is in the vertical blank signal, with these defects being corrected by a TBC. There are a lot of signal quality issues that are corrected by a TBC.

There was previously more detail on the Wikipedia Macrovision page, but I suspect that Macrovision lawyers spend their entire lives sending out letters stating that the emperor is not naked, and that saying so will result in a lawsuit.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Re: Macrovision Translation From PR-Speak to English

Hilarious! And mostly true, too. If only Macrovision's CEO had come out and directly "said it like it is" like this Daring Fireball translation shows, we all would understand Macrovision's real intentions. And Amoroso would have been out of a job :-)

Macrovision's real intentions

They are a company that offers "copy control" schemes. Any suggestion that these schemes can't work (laws of physics) or are harmful to the interests of their content industry customers (economics, etc) will obviously be sent a big dose of FUD. Since most people don't understand the underlying technology, it is easy for Macrovision to confuse people into thinking that their business has any legitimacy.

Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.

Macrovision, DRM and Patent's cheating

There are rumours that Fred Amoroso and his highly ethical company are involved in a Patent infringement lawsuit for willfully cheating against a small Californian software company... Is the White Knight of DRM so clean???