Practical Technology

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Cyber Cynic: Self Destructive DVDs and New Business Models

Walt Disney’s home video unit Buena Vista divsion, using Flexplay Technologies technology, is going to start selling DVDs that self-destuct after two days in August. It’s both an incrediblly good and an incredibly stupid idea

The technology, ez-D, is elegant and simple. The discs stop working because they change from a DVD-readable red to an unreadable black because of oxidation. You open them up, letting the oxygen in, watch them and in 48 hours you have a coaster instead of a DVD.

Buena Vista has two motives for these novel DVDs. The buisiness is that since buyers don’t have to return DVDs, they can sell DVDs pretty much anywhere. While Buena Vista isn’t telling, it’s clear from their language that they’re going to be pricing these disposible DVDs at close to current rental rates.

For idiots like me who waste money by being cogentially unable to get a DVD back to Blockbusters in time, ‘rental’ DVDs make perfect sense. Better still for Disney, there are enough people like me, or people who’d pick up a DVD as an impulse buy if it were three to five bucks at the local 7-11, that this technology will almost certainly give the financially struggling mouse a financial boost. That’s the good idea.

The bad idea, the incredibly stupid idea, that some people at Disney, not Flexplay, has is that ex-D is somehow an anti-cracker technology. Oh please!

The fact that the disc has a limited lifespan because of a chemical reaction instead of a software based Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme somehow will stop hackers from getting at its contents is nonsense. With 48 hours to crack the DVD, and anti-cracking and DVD copying software commonplace, ez-D is no more a effective copy protection than the shrinkwrap the DVD comes in.

Besides, even though legal action against DVD encryption and copying software compaines like Internet Enterprises Inc., RDestiny LLC, HowtocopyDVDs.com, DVDBackupbuddy.com and DVDSqueeze.com is heating up with multiple law suits from Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox, the studios don’t seem to understand that breaking copy protection per se isn’t really the problem. The DVD copying companies claim that they’re simply enabling legal owners of a DVD ability to make backup copies of their DVDs. The studios reply that breaking a DVD’s copy protection under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is illegal regardless of the copy’s use.

Of course, the real problem is that technology has fundamentally broken the business model of high-priced restricted access to copyright material. No copy protection scheme will stand against copy cracking efforts. No law suits will then stop the copy protection breaking software from spreading.

Technology has opened Pandora’s copyright protection box forever. Neither technology or the law can close it.

There is another way though. Embrace the new models. Sound impossible? Think again. Apple seems to have done pretty well with its iTunes Music Store haven’t they?

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