Indie Film Maker Is Creating A DRM-Free Open HD Video Format

from the killing-DRM dept

In most areas of entertainment, DRM is an option. If you want to publish an ebook, you don’t have to use DRM. Same for video games and music. While these others areas of entertainment are moving away from DRM, there is one prominent holdout on the DRM front: movies. Every official distribution and streaming service for the movie industry has some form of required DRM. This includes streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, download services like Amazon and iTunes, and even the physical media such as DVD and Blu-ray. According to the larger studios, DRM is a necessity, even though its effectiveness is questionable at best and customers hate it. But what about those studios that want to deliver a High Definition experience without the burden of DRM? What choices do they have? If all they want to do is allow people to stream or download the movie, they have plenty of options, but what if they want to include the full feature list available via Blu-ray?

This is one quandary that Terry Hancock of Free Software Magazine found himself facing a little over a year ago. He had been working on two films and wanted a High Definition feature rich experience without the hassle of Blu-ray DRM. He had looked at multiple options, many of which fell a little flat in the end. However, one stood out as the most reasonable option for what he wanted to do. He had to write his own open, DRM-free, HD video standard.

Thanks to Nina Paley, we learn that Terry has started a Kickstarter Campaign to help fund the creation of this open HD video standard called, Lib-ray. Terry describes the motivation behind this campaign as follows:

This may sound like a quixotic goal for a lone individual without corporate backing to develop, but most of the money spent on developing Blu-Ray was spent on the DRM technology — meaning the technology to make it not play under certain circumstances. The actual business of getting menus and video to work is much simpler, and a lot of the work has already been done. So a format without DRM, based on open standards is intrinsically more attainable.

Think about that. Designing DRM is designing ways in which your movie will not play. Why would anyone want to waste time and money on such an idiotic goal? You would think that movie producers would want people to watch their movies. This idea is what pushed Terry to this point. Why waste time and money on using a DRM’ed media like Blu-ray to release what he wants to be a free culture movie? Even if he tried to work around the DRM of Blu-ray, there is no guarantee that the movies would play in standard Blu-ray players and he would still have to deal with licensing issues.

Terry has not set himself up for disappointment with this standard. He recognizes that it will not unseat Blu-ray as the mass market standard but rather is looking at this for use as a promotional format for those who want to distribute physical media. His examples include using the standard for films as Kickstarter rewards or to distribute films at conventions. There are a lot of opportunities for this to be successful in the indie scene.

On top of this, Terry plans to make the standard completely open and open source. While he does not have an open source web destination yet, he plans to have one ready soon. This choice is probably the key to gaining a more wide spread adoption. If he had tried to keep it locked up in the same way as Blu-ray or DVD, it would never take off.

I applaud the effort Terry is putting into this project. However, it is frustrating that such a project needs to exist. The insistence of the movie studios that all distribution of their films be burdened with DRM is not only ineffective, but it is also harming indie artists who would love to access the features without the restrictions and massive licensing fees. Hopefully, this project will succeed and give those artists the control (or lack of control) they want over their work.

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Comments on “Indie Film Maker Is Creating A DRM-Free Open HD Video Format”

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Marius says:

There are already codecs out there that are open source and capable of encoding HD content.

He should finance codecs like Theora and Dirac.

The first is already working and can achieve right now very good HD quality as long as you throw a lot of bitrate to it (for example Theora needs 2-3x the disc space compared to current bluray codecs to achieve similar quality).

Dirac is also very promising, but it stagnated for a long time and computers have to be powerful to decode the Dirac encoded content.

It would take a huge amount of funding and research to just investigate all the possible patents and be sure you don’t use anything that’s in them. The Theora guys already did that.

In my opinion there’s no need for another open source codec that would split up the few developers out there willing to work on something like this.

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My understanding is that the Lib-ray project is not introducing a new codec, nor is it using a proprietary one; it employs a subset of the same video codec used in Google’s WebM format (less some of the “online” features). Though WebM has not been vetted as much as Theora from a patent standpoint, but I would consider it a much better choice than any of the proprietary MPEG codecs (though I’d personally prefer Theora was chosen).

Rekrul says:

So he wants to create another video disc standard, which people will have to buy dedicated players for?

Yeah, I’m sure that will work…

People have been slow to switch from DVD to Blu-Ray, and that’s with the lure of blockbuster Hollywood movies to play on it. How does he expect to entice the average consumer to buy such a player when the only exclusive content will be indie films, promos and such?

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Missing the point on DRM

Please don’t talk about DRM like it’s an annoyance, or something that customers don’t like but have to put up with. That’s a very weak rhetorical point, when you could be making a much stronger one: it’s an inherently evil technology whose only use case is to violate people’s property rights.

It’s obvious when you think about it. In any other context, if some remote programmer were to take your computer, that you own and have the right to use as you wish, and place code upon it that you don’t want to have there that explicitly causes it to not be able to do something that it would otherwise be able to do, you’d say you’ve been hacked, and you’d be outraged at the violation of your rights, right?

So how is DRM any different, except that it’s got the DMCA on its side, turning common sense inside out, saying that it’s perfectly legal for a copyright owner to hack your computer and illegal for you to protect yourself from said hacking?

Until we manage to change the discussion, and make that the rhetorical argument on people’s minds, and start spreading around the idea that there’s a bad law out there that makes it legal for movie and game companies to hack you, and that this law needs to be repealed, we’re not going to make any progress. And simply lying down and calling DRM “annoying” is accepting and legitimizing the technology instead of trying to discredit it.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point on DRM

where to start…where to start.

first, in the eyes of the IP industry we have no rights, only they have rights, and all of us are infringing on those rights constantly.

drm is different because its preceved as protecting the rights of the rich against us dirty pissants who are constantly infringing on their intellectual property rights.

how long have you lived in the western world?

not long if you think your arguements hold any validity in the eyes of those who govern the Incorporated States of America.

in there eyes we are here simply to act as a giant endless wallet/moneybag they can just keep exploiting as they treat us like(and even call is) thieves at every turn.

buy a song on itunes and download it, burn it to a cd to use in your car/old boombox= your a thief because you should have bought the original cd in redbook format.

rip a cd you own to your computer to use on your digital media device: your a pirate/thief because you should have bought a separate digital copy for use on each device.

I could go on, the point is, despite my agreement with your sentiment, this isnt how this country/part of the world works, the whole western world is under the control of the corporations and those very corporations are using themoney they bleed off the public to maintain and expand their power and control.

only fix is to starve them….and thats not gonna happen, to many people cant help but give them money…..

I am standing firm, I want to see a few movies that are out/coming out, but wont because the MPAA would get money out of it…..(fuck i wana see 2 of them…but….again fuck the mpaa!!!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Missing the point on DRM

From your opening couple of sentences, I didn’t think I was going to agree with you. But you make quite a compelling argument. Imaginary Property laws are all about disempowerment of the ‘competitors’ of the IP’s ‘owners’. (In reality, ideas can only be shared, not owned.)

Nobody actually gains anything from these laws, although some people seem to perceive someone else’s loss as their own gain, which is unfortunate.

Miratus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Missing the point on DRM

Actually, and this an academic point: it is one of the mainstay mantra’s of IP law that ideas cannot be protected, although specific technical functionality / embodiments can.

The difference? *throws hands in the air* OK, fine, patents in practice do get really close to protecting an ‘idea’ in that they broadly protect a certain way of solving a problem or offering new functionality.

The patents on new functionality are the tough ones, in my view: you thought it up and took the time, money and effort to get it protected. Now you can exclude/permit people to implement it. Another way of solving a problem may well be easier to find than the ‘idea’ of this functionality.

All this makes me glad that the European Patent Office has much higher requirements for such patents than the USPTO and that the European Court of Justice only this week struck down a copyright claim to software functionality. There is a more balanced way of going about all this.

Miratus (profile) says:

Re: Missing the point on DRM

Maybe the author did not want to make a stronger ‘rhetorical point’? Maybe the author wanted to focus on the actual facts of the news instead of entering into a debate with people whose anti-DRM zeal borders on the religious…? Just a thought, of course. ๐Ÿ˜‰

On a side note: I love the description of a technology as ‘evil’ and the DRM-use only case defined as “violat[ing] people’s property rights”. I would say that DRM-promoters have a fair counter-point when they say that DRM is designed to stop people from violating other people’s intellectual property rights. You may disagree about whether or not that is something worth protecting, but property/investment protection seems a more logical reason for developing DRM at great expense then to “violate people’s property rights”, as you put it.

As for the ‘how is DRM different from hacking your computer’ approach… well, all such comparisons in the great cloud of IP-debates are skewed and – at best – only partially relevant to the actual legal/social questions at hand, IMHO.

The difference is simple, though: you yourself (yes, you!) contractually bought/agreed to something that limits what you get. Don’t like it? Then don’t buy it, is what I say. Oh dear… wait, that is skirting very close to what you accused the OP of… let me put it like this: DRM is something that customers don’t like but a) have to put up with if they buy it anyway OR b) have the option of not buying. Sound fair enough?

AzureSky (profile) says:

Merius, wouldnt it be better to throw money at vp8(webm) encoder development since Theora is just an older version of VP8 thats development was continued by the community.

Dirac’s a good/need idea but it takes to much time and power to decode and encode, further development could help but that would take years from what I have read.

BUT from what i can tell, this isnt about codec as much as container and management of special features, this could be done with a modern container being extended, such as MKV or NUT being extended to have support for muti tracks per file as well as menus and “features”

from what i can tell, his main goal is a way to put out full dvd/bluray features via streaming and direct download without need to burn to a disk, again this could be done using NUT or MKV (or a few other new/future containers being expanded a bit feature wise)

I think my move would be to just fund extention or development and support of the .nut container and have it include the option for menus and extra features internally, this could also be done with mkv, and as mkv is in active dev it may be easier to get that group to get-r-done in a timely fashion.

I like the idea, but dont need the feature myself…but it would be great for people like my parents who actually use the dvd/bd menus and extras(they bore i dont use them)

it would be nice if somebody could put some money into developing a truly optimized and feature rich vp8 encoder tho, the default one shows it lacks serious optimization and development.

a side note, from what i have read, if theora or vp8 become a threat to h264/avc there will likely be a law suit, even without valid cause, because our system promotes these actions to protect profits…..and dosnt punish the rich for being dicks….rather it rewards dickish behavior

Miratus (profile) says:

Re: I haven't even read this article but...

I have read the article and as someone who has spent a *lot* of time studying the various video formats for patent infringement, let me assure you, it will… oh, yes, it will… ๐Ÿ™

I practice and teach IP law to both science and law students as well as advising some of the largest corporations in the world and I do not know of any easy, practical and/or efficient way of using all the necessary kinds of claimed bits of technological innovation that were patented somewhere in the last 20 years (the max lifespan of a patent in most countries). So, yeah, creating a new video standard: doable. Creating a new video container/management system: very doable. Doing all this without infringing some rights of others: very, very tough. His best hope: to be successful enough to get the standard made and yet unsuccessful enough not to get sued.

Anonymous Monkey (profile) says:

Re: Re:

AVCHD is developed by Sony.
From the AVCHD website:

(1) Trademarks

AVCHD Related Logos are trademarks of Panasonic Corporation and Sony Corporation.
The use of AVCHD Related Logos are allowed on the Licensed Products and related
materials, in accordance with ?AVCHD Format and Logo License Agreement?.

Androgynous Cowherd says:

The insistence of the movie studios that all distribution of their films be burdened with DRM is not only ineffective, but it is also harming indie artists who would love to access the features without the restrictions and massive licensing fees.

From the studios’ point of view, that’s a feature, not a bug. It stifles upstart competitors to their oligopoly that might not toe the oligopoly’s lines on pricing, quality, and the like and might instead offer a better deal than they do.

Ninja (profile) says:


There’s a question we should ask before supporting codecs (even though I do agree with you) or starting a kickstarter project for a DRM free format: Is it needed? Can’t you use the mainstream stuff without DRM?

I’ll explain. Take DVDs for instance. They use MPEG and some region DRM with a standard decoding key. If I want a DRM free version I’ll use a software that will remove the region restriction, the decoding key and preserve the main video format. I believe Blu-ray uses the same feature, except that with the advent of internet the idiots from Sony and the likes can UPDATE the decoding keys on the firmware level (easier to update the devices nowadays because everything is connected). So I would think (and correct me if I’m wrong) that it’s pretty much the same on Blu-rays. You just have to remove the DRM or not use it in the first place, the format will be pretty much intact and it should run on any device even if the firmware is outdated.

Now, if you are talking about creating an OPEN SOURCE HD format to be used in playback devices then it’s another story. If it’s only to get rid of DRM then screw it (provided you can burn your movie in a Blu-ray without the DRM that will run on regular devices. If DRM is mandatory then we do need this project.

Yakko Warner (profile) says:

Required on DVD??

DRM is not required to distribute movies on DVD. You can burn a DVD without any DRM at all (region-free and CSS-free) and play it on any DVD player. I don’t know enough about Blu-ray to know if players require DRM — I don’t own a Blu-ray burner or software. I would guess the same holds true, but that’s just a guess.

Encoding movies in the existing codecs may require a license to use for distribution, but that’s not the same thing as DRM. If the issue is that major distributors just won’t produce movies without DRM, then coming up with a new video format isn’t going to solve that.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Missing the point on DRM

I would say that DRM-promoters have a fair counter-point when they say that DRM is designed to stop people from violating other people’s intellectual property rights.

Well, yes, except for one minor problem: it does nothing of the sort and never has. It’s called copy-right for a reason. DRM doesn’t (and can’t) keep anyone from making copies; it can only keep people from using them. And so now we’ve taken what’s supposed to be a copy-right and perverted it into a usage-right, which was never what copyright was supposed to be about.

And worse still, it does so by a mechanism that hacks your computer and violates your property rights.

And worse still, it does so by a mechanism that violates your 5th Amendment right to Due Process, by finding you guilty of copyright infringement and applying [the author’s own private interpretation of] the punishment to you, with no trial and no appeal. You’re not innocent until proven guilty, you’re not even guilty until proven innocent. If the DRM says your copy is not legitimate, (even if it does so because of a bug in the DRM system,) you’re simply guilty and screw any relevant facts.

In any other context, a private party acting in such a way is known as a vigilante, and his actions are highly illegal. And there’s a good reason why vigilantism is illegal: vigilantes have a strong incentive to go overboard in their actions, both in applying excessive punishments and in identifying innocents as criminals. (Particularly when the vigilante and the victim are the same person.)

And is this an apt comparison? Does this problem apply with DRM? Let’s see… the Sony Rootkit, StarForce, SecuRom, the Ubisoft server mess, Apple’s iOS “walled garden”, Amazon deleting books from people’s Kindles… yup! Sure does!

So no, your argument holds no weight. DRM does nothing to protect people’s copyright rights, and what it does do is evil. We have a right to Due Process for a reason, and DRM tramples it. If it was actually considered, the rule would be “piracy is the publisher’s problem, not my problem, and the publisher has zero right to make it my problem unless and until they can prove in court that I am part of the problem.” Don’t you think that’s far more reasonable than allowing publishers to preemptively assume that you are part of the problem and treat you as such?

Terry Hancock (profile) says:

"What Lib-Ray is and what it is NOT"

There seem to be a few misconceptions about what I’m trying to do with Lib-Ray in some of the comments above. Rather than trying to hunt them all down, I’ve written an update to try to clarify:

“What Lib-Ray is and what it is NOT”

“I’ve seen some discussion of Lib-Ray on several different forums which appears to betray some basic misunderstandings about what it is and what it isn’t. I’m going to start with what it isn’t, because most of the problems seem to arise from mistaking it for these things…”

Hope this helps! ๐Ÿ™‚

Anonymous Coward says:

"What Lib-Ray is and what it is NOT"

I can’t comment on your site, so I thought I’d comment here in the hopes that you might see this eventually. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m very glad you’re leaning toward mkv. The work done by fansubbers in developing it has been very good for consumers. Using mkv may also make it easier for content creators to crowd-source subtitles in various languages and bundle them back into the product. In addition to Mplayer2, you might also look into how CCCP was developed for Windows, since VLC and most other players don’t gracefully handle ordered chapters or 10-bit compression at this time.

I think your project looks interesting and could potentially be very useful.

arahman81 (profile) says:

Re: Need to buy a Lib-Ray player

I would hope the format is meant to work on the PC from the get-go, so I can just pop in the card and play it on my PC- even better if I can play it on VLC/MPC. Of course, others would need a Lib-Ray player, for pop-and-play viewing.

I would really like to see it take off, it has the chance to be the GoG of movies.

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