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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Filed Under: blu-ray, drm, dvd, free software magazine, hd, lib-ray, nina paley, terry hancock
Companies: kickstarter

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  1. identicon
    Mason Wheeler, 10 May 2012 @ 4:51pm

    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.

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