Will content companies avoid open source?

Will content companies avoid open source?

Summary: David Berlind recently described the Microsoft Windows Media Juggernaut as "unstoppable." I'm inclined to agree.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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David Berlind recently described the Microsoft Windows Media Juggernaut as "unstoppable." I'm inclined to agree. Microsoft has a stake in every media sector that matters, and has spent years working on spreading support for its formats throughout the hardware industry. Though I can't say Microsoft has definitively won the race, no one else has all the pieces needed to build a media "ecosystem" to rival them.

Apple is simply too small and too committed to its own hardware to create anything comparable, despite past successes in the video world and its current success in audio. Sony aims to build an alternative ecosystem, and as a consumer electronics giant can match Microsoft solutions in terms of variety (though they, too, suffer from the same commitment to their own hardware). Sony is a hardware company, however, which means Sony's software position is less unified.  There are signs, though, that Sony may increasingly be considering open source as an option, from Playstation 3 support for Linux developers to Linux in future versions of Sony Ericsson phones.

Don't expect Sony to choose open source media technology for the content side of its business, however. Irrespective of technological merit, philosophical differences would ensure that open source solutions would have as much chance as a French candidate for British prime minister.

Open source is a movement not known for its enthusiasm for copyright. Granted, the more enlightened practitioners understand that copyright protects GPLed code as much as proprietary software by granting copyright holders the ability to control the rules under which their creation is licensed. This is what gave Harald Welte the ability to serve notice to companies for violating the terms of the GPL. Still, take a tour of the responses to this Slashdot article covering an open source DRM solution to see that many don't understand the distinction. However much the leading lights might protest, free really does mean free ride to many fans of open source.

It's not proprietary software vendors who take giddy pleasure in breaking the iTunes DRM, but open source developers "trying to enable playback on Linux." Is it any wonder that Apple spends little time catering to that market?

So long as open source is associated in some way with such activity, open source media solutions will be at a disadvantage when technology decisions are made by content creators. Like it or not, but it's not consumers who will decide what media format wins, but media companies that generate the content people want to hear and see.

I don't see that changing so long as the philosophical underpinnings of the movement remains founded on overthrowing proprietary revenue models. That too easily turns into attempts to remove all limitations on how innovations/creations are used, and that's bound to worry media companies dependent on revenue streams derived from controlling access to media.

You wouldn't rely on textbooks on evolution published by a group dedicated to the promotion of "creation science." Neither will content companies rely on open source media technology in a digital media future.

[Editor's note 5/26/05 9:35 am: John Carroll, a longtime ZDNet reader-contributor, now works for Microsoft. Details here.]

Topic: Open Source

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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  • OpenSource Hacking of iTunes DRM

    Hacking the iTunes DRM software was simply a developer/programmer exercising the fundamental notion of having a "itch to scratch". If you run GNU/LINUX as your primary desktop operating system and use one of the many media players capable of playing .AAC files, then it makes sense for you to want to play songs you've purchased from the iTunes Music Store.

    I've got an iTunes music store account and have bought quite a bit of music from them. I also burn off everything that I buy to CD so I can have a "backup" - in case my Mac's HDD fails. In addition to using for archival purposes, I re-record the CD on my LINUX desktop for playback.

    I would like to believe that I'm not unlike most people that run LINUX as their desktop/server platform. I would prefer a native LINUX application over having to use a virtualization package (VMWare or Xen) or emulation (WINE, Win4Lin, etc.) to run applications I want/need to run. At the end of the day, I have a goal that I'm working towards and I will find the best means of achieving that goal.

    The real problem with software vendors and their digital rights management solutions is that they are binding their technologies to thier hardware/software platforms which is really what they are interested in preserving. Apple is surely enjoying the tight coupling between the iPod and iTunes music store. Similarly Microsoft wants content providers to use the Windows Media format because they want hardware/software vendors to licenese the Windows Media platform for inclusion in their products.

    If there were LINUX compatible versions of the DRM software, most LINUX users would be happy to use that regardless of whether it is open or closed source. Sure you will have the extremist LINUX users who won't be happy because they can't get to the source code, but I would speculate that those are the vocal minority. As long as the LINUX version of software is kept up to date and feature/function comparable to what is available on other platforms then there won't be much to complain aobut. Look at the support nVidia has in the open source community.
    derek.berube@...
    • I agree with this position

      It's not really the hacking of a DRM solution, it's not playing the content you paid for. If you buy a cd that plays only on your home music system but does not play on your car audio system then that cd get's returned and another user hates whatever company made the cd. If I buy a DVD and want to watch it on my PSP why do I need to buy the PSP verstion again? If I could rip it to the PSP media disk (I can't remember what sony calls it but it's not universal)I would gladly pay sony $5 a blank disk. Or Make the PSP have video and audio out to play back on TV that way you can just buy the PSP version. But paying twice for lesser quality will not sell too many movies for the PSP.
      xshakes
      • Paying twice

        [i]But paying twice for lesser quality will not sell too many movies for the PSP.[/i]

        No, and that's the reason that Sony is doomed. They don't have the leverage to force you to pay twice.

        Microsoft, goes the theory, does. Therefore the content cartel will work with Microsoft to make sure that you have to buy a copy for home, for each car, for each portable you buy, and every time you replace any of them.

        Which, please note, will happen a lot. The format will change frequently, so you'll have to buy new players for new media and of course then you'll have to replace any of the old media that you still want to play, which of course means getting rid of your old players (including the cars).

        This is called a "rich media ecosystem," where all of the vendors make [b]much[/b] more than before because you and I buy the same thing over and over instead of just once. The player manufacturers sell you several new players a year (instead of every few years), the media companies get to sell you the same song several times a year, etc. Boom times all around, the dot.com days are back to stay.

        You can see why John, as a Microsoft employee, is drooling at the thought.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Proprietary Software Vendors are Hacking Fairplay

    Let us not forget that it isn't just the Open Source community hacking Apple's DRM software. Real Software also replicated Apples FairPlay DRM software so people could buy songs from their store and play them on the iPod.

    http://news.zdnet.com/2100-3513_22-5290814.html
    derek.berube@...
  • Stop spreading FUD

    "Open source is a movement not known for its enthusiasm for copyright."
    That is way to far from the truth.. Open source is based on the premise of Copyright. At least the GPL and BSD licenses are, along wiht most OSI approved licenses.
    Its the patents they dont like!! It locks them out of being able to compete. You guys constantly mix up copyright, Patent and Trademark to cloud the air around IP. I feel you do this on purpose.
    ZDnet: Your colors are showing with this article.
    icorson1
    • Semantics

      Although I cannot speak for John, my sense is that he didn't clearly articulate what he was thinking. John and just about everybody else here knows that the open source community has no enthusiasm for a type of copyright... the all rights reserved type. The type that is the most restricting in terms of code re-use and creation of derivatives. Patents, as it turns out, come in handy and I think the elements of the open source community that oppose them are beginning to warming up to them. Not as a matter of ideaology, but as a matter of practicality. This is because patent law varies from country to country. The reality is that we can be as ideaological about it as we want, but that complicated international environment isn't going to change any time soon. When a company like Nokia says we have patents and we're releasing them for unencumbered application in the Linux kernel, that not only assures kernel developers that Nokia won't sue them for patent infringement, but it makes it clear that Nokia is helping to form a legal force field that protects those developers from infringement suits by others as well.

      We (ZDNet) don't mix up copyright, patent, and trademark on purpose. I think this story about JBOSS' indemnification offer makes that clear: http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=1240

      On the DRM front, the only thing that will make DRM go away is to kill it on the demand side. There of course will be hacks, but to really rid the world of DRM, content publishers have to buy into the idea that it's better to have their content freely copied and redistributed than not (there's a school of thought that this approach is actually key to a successful business model and that by protecting content, you will kill your business). This gets into the realm of things like "the remix," attention.xml, creative commons, identity management, and content authenticity. So much needs to be figured out that we can't even scratch the surface. But suffice to say that for the very long term, content producers of all types (artists, writers, audiographers, videographers, businesses, etc.) will seek/need ways to guard their content (and not always against copying).

      db
      dberlind
      • DRM involves more than content companies.

        As a general principle, any organization or individual opposed to distribution without remuneration ... ahm permission is favoring a form of DRM.

        That specifically means proprietary software companies which oppose open source.

        The problem for open source is larger than the ambiguous technical issues you mention; it's whether a mindset about IP as the main revenue source can be changed.

        Expanding a bit, open source has been successful sometimes in getting backing from governments. But a government that recognizes the significance of IP to a modern economy has to tend to oppose any reduction in the value of IP.

        So the issue is not, how can government support for open source be obtained, it's how can government antipathy to open source be averted.
        Anton Philidor
      • Software patents are handy because...

        ...they exist. Does anyone else see a serious flaw in the philosophy of using patents like nuclear weapons? The whole model is about the idea that it doesn't matter if I illegally use their patent as long as they are illegally using mine. And as far as I know, no other government entity accepts software patents aside from the US. Software patents need to go away. A binary is no different than an instruction manual.

        DMCA needs to go away too. I suspect that if it wasn't for that rediculous law DRMs would quickly become impossible. As opposed to the long arduous road it has now. DRMs are only about limiting customer value and maintain control of distribution by institutions quickly becoming irrelevant. Why should an artist sign away the rights to his works when he can just start a website and burn his own albums? DRMs are not a road block to pirates who are doing the illegal anyway. I don't see open source people embracing DRMs not because its about pirating, but because its about customer choice of what to do with material they legally possess. People will continue to break the DMCA because its rediculous law. And once they cross the line of being a law breaker, why should no money exchange pirating be much worse?

        Two last thoughts. If you continue to treat your costumers as enemies, they will see you as an enemy. And George W. Bush listens to music on his iPod he himself does not own.
        Zinoron
        • Bears repeating

          [i]DRMs are only about limiting customer value[/i]

          Yup -- which should set off all kinds of "Wealth of Nations" alarms from John's economics classes. Alas, I think he's transcended even the most radical Chicago School members in reducing economics to corporate bookkeeping.
          Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Re: Handy

          [i]DRMs are only about limiting customer value and maintain control of distribution by institutions.[/i]

          Well...duh. That's the point. DRM is how media companies make money from an asset that could theoretically be copied ad infinitum without returning any revenue to the owner. It's a revenue model, and one that's highly profitable. Consumers would PREFER not to have DRM, just as they'd PREFER to install as many copies of Windows as they want. That's just not going to happen, though, because the content owner doesn't want it to.

          [i]Why should an artist sign away the rights to his works when he can just start a website and burn his own albums?[/i]

          Because he can make $50 million by leveraging the corporate marketing machine, versus $5000 by relying on his own devices. He MIGHT manage to do it all himself, but it's certainly a lot harder than if he used an existing promotion/distribution channel.

          You are right, though, that new technology makes possible direct marketing, and that is great. What I think is more likely, though, is smaller media companies. It's still useful to have a marketing network and distributino network. Smaller companies can now manage it, though, because the cost of marketing / distributing has gone down so precipitously due to technology.

          [i] I don't see open source people embracing DRMs not because its about pirating, but because its about customer choice of what to do with material they legally possess.[/i]

          You're right, which is why content companies won't consider media technology that appeals to open source fans, at least from a format standpoint.

          You only have the right to use a product to the extent that the content owner gives you that right. I can't drive my car rented in LA into Mexico, period. You are RENTING access to music, albeit with no expiration date on the media you bought it on. You just can't use that media in ways that the media companies don't want you to.
          John Carroll
          • Are you serious?

            "Well...duh. That's the point."

            Well, yes, I know that. But some people seem to think it is about preventing piracy. Which is does not do. Piracy being illegal, the fact that it is also illegal to break that copy protection is a none issue. And since, open source or not, there is always going to be an individual who can break it, there will always be a way to break it. DRM doesn't stop piracy, only legit owners. How is that a good policy?

            "DRM is how media companies make money from an asset that could theoretically be copied ad infinitum without returning any revenue to the owner."

            Which, equally, could be produced without significant cost ad infinitum by the the original company. So even if they sold a song for pennies to a fraction of the market, they could still gain a vast some of money. Just to be clear, I don't condone piracy. I chide people I see using software without proper liscenses frequently. It is important to support those whose work you use/listen to/watch. But from the perspective of a corporation, it is not wise to antagonize your customer base. More on that shortly.

            "Because he can make $50 million by leveraging the corporate marketing machine, versus $5000 by relying on his own devices."

            Yeah, somehow it doesn't quite seem to work that way in the music industry. I don't know how many heartbreak stories I've heard about artists who are left with nothing because they don't own the rights to the songs they produced (written/performed) for a record label.

            "You're right, which is why content companies won't consider media technology that appeals to open source fans, at least from a format standpoint."

            It doesn't matter. There will always be an individual that can break it. Who content providers want to support is up to them. They can support those willing to break the law, are those willing to support it. In the end the Linux users will find ways to view or use whatever they want. Their share isn't really enough to for anyone to consider them a market for this particular thing. At least until a major company that has decided to take advantage of Linux has their own itch to scratch.

            "You only have the right to use a product to the extent that the content owner gives you that right. I can't drive my car rented in LA into Mexico, period. You are RENTING access to music, albeit with no expiration date on the media you bought it on. You just can't use that media in ways that the media companies don't want you to."

            And this is where I go, "Are you serious?" I'm not a big music guy (I know, I'm wierd). My time goes towards active activities like games, not things like music. Since I don't listen to music, I haven't actually purchased a music CD. I was unaware there was anything that stated the fact one was renting it. I was also under the impression that one had something the courts called 'fair use'. 'Fair use' including the ability to 'time shift' and make 'backup' copies. Filesharing and piracy not withstanding, are you saying I do not have the right to 'fair use'?
            Zinoron
          • Living the myth

            [i]Because he can make $50 million by leveraging the corporate marketing machine, versus $5000 by relying on his own devices.[/i]

            Not according to people in the business. A successful band is doing very, very well to make more at music than they would working at Wal-Mart. References all over the place. As Janis Ian notes after more time in popular music than you have breathing, "I've never yet gotten a royalty statement that didn't end up with me owing the label money."

            [i]You only have the right to use a product to the extent that the content owner gives you that right.[/i]

            So you're telling me that if an author refuses me permission to resell a book of his that I bought from his publisher, I don't have the right to resell it?

            Would you care to make this interesting, John? Say, to the tune of a thousand dollars or so?
            Yagotta B. Kidding
  • First they have to produce DRM'ed content.

    As No_Ax argued when I made the same point about DRM control, there's a lot of content around currently without DRM. That content will remain available when DRM'ed material appears.

    In fact, it will probably have more flexible usage than the DRM allows. So it'll have value over its replacement, which means much trading and reliance.

    Also, if there's a hardware component to DRM, that hardware is going to be less valuable than older devices with greater flexibility. I can't see even the content companies producing DRM'ed material that is not backward compatible. HDTV shows what is required to mandate new technology.

    Eventually, Microsoft wins, and open source will never be in the running. But it'll take a while.

    This comment leaves out the format problem for open source. A new, compliant format would have to be produced and maintained. But how many formats will the content companies be willing to support?

    If they can cover 90%+ of the market with wma/v and the Apple format (if necessary), are they going to bother issuing content in a minority format?

    Instead, I suspect that instead of a new format, the content companies will demand Linux support one of the approved formats.
    Linux as Microsoft licensee.

    If you're thinking about Linux hacking the format, as with DVDs currently, remember that the most prominent Linux distributions are produced by real companies. Real companies can be sued for encouraging hacking. Bring RedHat, SuSE, and Manwhatever into court, and they'll have to settle for actively working against playing media in the operating systems.
    Linux against widespread dissemination of information.

    We're going to be seeing some fun ironies.
    Anton Philidor
    • I was paraphrasing Just_Ax...

      ... not No_Ax in my post.

      Correct attribution is part of proper respect for IP.
      Anton Philidor
    • Too late

      [i]If you're thinking about Linux hacking the format, as with DVDs currently, remember that the most prominent Linux distributions are produced by real companies. Real companies can be sued for encouraging hacking. Bring RedHat, SuSE, and Manwhatever into court, and they'll have to settle for actively working against playing media in the operating systems.[/i]

      In response to the Fraunhoffer Institute's unclear (or changing) position on MP3 players, Red Hat already removed MP3 playback from its distribution. Mandrake and SuSE, as European corporations didn't need to bother since they were at least arguably in the clear.

      Now that Novell has bought SuSE they may take the Red Hat approach of removing MP3 playback. It's somewhat moot, actually, since the source is out there anyway and anyone who wants to add the capability can do so easily without Red Hat's or Novell's permission.

      Meanwhile, there are no end of countries which don't have DMCA-type restrictions on creating media players and most countries don't recognize software patents, so it's still quite legal to produce non-Microsoft and non-Apple players for Microsoft and Apple formats.

      Even in the USA it's not at all clear that it would be a patent infringement to write and publish source code for a Microsoft media player, since according to all of the extant legal precedents source code is pure speech and patents don't restrict [i]describing[/i] the invention disclosed -- in fact, that's exactly what a patent is: a description of the invention.

      If you were to patent a new back-scratcher, I could make all the drawings I wanted to of a back-scratcher which infringed your patent, and you would have no standing to sue me. Source code is a textual form of describing the invention and semantically equivalent to a detailed description of it, and the case law is quite clear that a description of an invention isn't an infringement of patent. I'm eagerly awaiting the day that US courts address this one, by the way -- it should be most interesting indeed.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Did you put much thought into this before you sat down and wrote this?

    The problem is that some commercial entities ignore consumer base (perhaps out of ignorance). There are a lot of examples of this from the past 5 years or so.

    Re: CSS and DVDs

    DeCSS was created to disable the content scrambling system on DVDs so that they could be viewed on something other than Windows or MacOS. While the actual coders have never been found, the code was derived from work released or acquired from a license holder. The people who actually implemented it were consumers wanting to view content that they had paid money for. I know, ignoring your customer base is important in business? growing ones market and broadening your possible customer base is so unimportant!

    Re: iTunes

    Breaking the DRM in iTunes (which was probably the same group that did DeCSS) was due to another market segment that as ignored, more customers spurned. Ignoring customers, especially intelligent ones, can have nasty repercussions. In the Apple case, they ignored a market that could have expanded the base of sales so the people that were interested in viewing their content offerings took matters into their own hands. Apple still makes money from sales of content (Apple store sells music, they purchase tracks).

    As to Microsoft having all the pieces for the ecosystem, they are leveraging their monopoly (as upheld in the US Appeals Court and waiting for the Court of First Instance in the EU) from Windows to muscle into another market. They are already used in the porn industry, as you find content providers (VoD) already implementing both Windows Media and Real DRM solutions. Microsoft misses out slightly with Linux (Real is there, Microsoft is not) and that market is only about $50 billion annually.

    A further question that comes to mind, will content companies that actually produce content (rather than just resell as in VoD or broadcast as in RTSP) care as more consumers from around the world have the option to use multiple content readers in multiple devices. These days, you can watch TV on a cell phone or small handheld device; OMA (which has their own DRM specification) details how this can work on multiple devices. Will Windows Media work on a Palm/Linux PDA/smartphone or will they avoid that market (a fairly large one in some areas)?

    In video production (high end, as in things like Star Wars Episode 3, Scooby Doo, etc.), they are often using a product called Cinepaint which is GIMP altered for video production. They are using open source products to produce fairly high end products that Microsoft is choosing to ignore or failing to deliver on (promises don?t get the product out, delivering is all that counts). Attaching DRM to the product after it is completed is not that hard to do, but they are not used that much in the actual production.

    These are just some of the flaws in your limited views, but I don?t expect much from a Microsoft wage slave.
    B.O.F.H.
    • You did notice the reaction to DeCSS?

      Did the content companies say, "Oh yes, we forgot about the Linux market; Sorry. We'll have a version for Linux out as soon as we can."?

      Nope.

      They hounded anyone even linking to the code. They tracked down the youth in Scandinavia said to be the author of the code and had him tried in a criminal case. When the youth was not convicted in the case, they worked very hard, found another set of charges, and went back to court.

      And remember, so far as I know, there's still no legally accepted way to play DVDs on Linux. Or if there is, it hasn't been proudly publicized by the content companies.

      This is a battle over control. Preventing unauthorized use is far more important than profits to the content companies.
      Anton Philidor
      • DVD on Linux

        [i]And remember, so far as I know, there's still no legally accepted way to play DVDs on Linux. Or if there is, it hasn't been proudly publicized by the content companies.[/i]

        I suppose that depends on what you mean by "legally accepted."

        You can certainly install the current version of Novell's Linux distribution on a machine with a DVD drive (in fact, it's so freaking huge that you pretty well [b]need[/b] a DVD drive while installing it!) and start playing CSS video DVDs right away. The MPAA and their CSS licensing subsidiary haven't tried to stop Novell.

        I think they're pretty much up against the statute of limitations for waiver on that one, so if they don't do something to at least [b]try[/b] to stop Novell pretty soon that will count as waiver and the courts [b]will[/b] recognize that they've blown their chance to act against Novell and similar (hypothetical) defendents.

        Would that count as "legally accepted?"
        Yagotta B. Kidding
        • Legally accepted, maybe...

          ... but about as reluctant as you can get.

          How eager do you think the content companies will be to assure that Linux users are not disadvantaged by DRM technology?

          How inconvenienced will Linux fans and programmers be by having to get licenses from Microsoft? The special application form from Microsoft will include the words, pretty please.
          Anton Philidor
    • Re: Reading

      [i]The people who actually implemented it were consumers wanting to view content that they had paid money for. [/i]

      ...and the net result was a solution which enabled people to rip DVD media and distribute for free on the internet. That TERRIFIES media companies, and sorry, that doesn't make them have warm feelings towards the open source community. Frankly, I don't think many content companies look to fans of FREE SOFTWARE and think "wow, that's a growing market for our products."

      [i] In the Apple case, they ignored a market that could have expanded the base of sales so the people that were interested in viewing their content offerings took matters into their own hands.[/i]

      Ditto with Apple. Expect Apple to continue to treat the Linux world as the bastard stepchild of IT.

      These aren't the kinds of things that lead content providers to treat the open source community with respect. Rather, it makes them want to create a world where open source has lots of trouble. What better way to do that than to tie them up in patents...or use companies with a track record of fighting them, such as Apple or Microsoft.

      [i]As to Microsoft having all the pieces for the ecosystem...they are leveraging their monopoly from Windows to muscle into another market.[/i]

      How is talking to content providers "leveraging their monopoly?" Microsoft has distribution for its media formats, but on that note, how did that help Microsoft to convince standardization orgs to accept VC1? How does Microsoft's distribution of media formats affect its decision to go into handhelds, cell phones, game consoles, etc. that BUILDS THE ECOSYSTEM which maeks those media formats useful?

      Just because you have an antitrust hammer doesn't mean it can be used to pound in every nail. There are 80,000 things that have gone into Microsoft's ability to build that media ecosystem. Yes, it's USEFUL to be able to guarantee that every current copy of Windows has Windows media formats preinstalled, but that's maybe 10% of what needs to be done to build a credible media ecosystem.

      [i]They are using open source products to produce fairly high end products that Microsoft is choosing to ignore or failing to deliver on (promises don?t get the product out, delivering is all that counts).[/i]

      TiVo is based on Linux. Content creators will be less concerned about open source media PRODUCTS, and more concerned about the format that that media is delivered in.

      [i]as you find content providers (VoD) already implementing both Windows Media and Real DRM solutions.[/i]

      What content providers are using the Real DRM solution for anything but desktop computing? Low-res is less of a concern than full res for DVDs / Video. Though they don't want it to happen, low-res Star Wars bootlegs are less of a concern than full res cuts from a DVD.

      [i]Will Windows Media work on a Palm/Linux PDA/smartphone or will they avoid that market (a fairly large one in some areas)?[/i]

      Nokia has already signed licensing agreements for Windows media formats, so I would say "yes." Though no open source programmer would touch Microsoft formats with a 20 foot pole, I expect those who make Linux products (phones or handhelds) will be free to license those technologies.

      [i]These are just some of the flaws in your limited views, but I don?t expect much from a Microsoft wage slave.[/i]

      ...and you were doing so good.
      John Carroll