Friday, December 18, 2009

DRM Fiasco Takes Down Early Avatar Screening

One argument against DRM (digital rights management or copy protection) is that it is not failure proof, and when it fails, end users are left helpless. Thus, the fiasco at an early screening of the mega-blockbuster (and soon to be hit) "Avatar" in Germany, as a 3D version of the film was unable to be shown because technicians could not decode the version they had been sent.

Although not a SNAFU of the type that would affect, say, millions of iTunes users, it does serve to highlight the problems and issues behind DRM. It is not unheard of, for example, for DRM to prevent a game from playing on a specific PC because of a HW configuration of some sort.

The incident in Germany occurred when 3D digital versions of the movie were delivered to certain theaters for pre-screening. Howver, a problem with the encryption on the video meant that they could not be decoded and watched.

The DRM system involved includes digital certificates for the projectors and server-delivered time-sensitive keys that are supposed to be returned to the theater for projection. After working for several hours trying to decrypt the 150 GB of data, they were forced to give up and resort to (gasp!) 2D versions.

"Avatar" is expected to be a huge megahit, and a movie of epic proporions, much like James Cameron's last major film, "Titanic." It can be said that the DRM, much like the movie, was epic as well. That is to say, an epic failure.
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