Blu-ray, HD-DVD Managed Copy Nearing Reality

Whither managed copy? In the early, posturing stages of the battle between Blu-ray and HD DVD, proponents of the new high-definition discs heavily promoted a feature called managed copy, which promised to enable legal consumer copying of content from a Blu-ray or HD DVD disc to another device or disc. But the first high-def players released before managed copy was finalized, and discussion of the feature waned--until now.

Managed-copy proponents are once again bringing up the concept, raising hopes that it is closer to becoming reality. Representatives for the group behind the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) expect that the 1.0 version of AACS will be ready before the end of the year. "That's our goal," says Michael Ayers, spokesperson for the AACS Licensing Authority. "We think we're on a fairly good track."

Unfinished Spec

When the first high-definition players appeared last year, the respective coalitions used what was referred to as an "interim" version of AACS. Vendors were eager to release their players, but critical technical and licensing aspects of AACS were still not ready to go--most notably (but not limited to) the portion of the AACS spec that handled managed copy. So an interim spec that left out managed copy was created to bridge the gap. In March of last year, when the interim spec launched, insiders estimated the spec would be final a few months later.

Fast-forward to May 2007. "We're at the 0.93 version of the spec; it's not the final version. It's been taking a while to roll out," says Ayers. He notes that the ongoing attacks on AACS are delaying the eventual finalization of the spec. "It is disruptive to respond to the various attacks. It means we're putting aside finalizing the agreements and getting managed copy out."

As anticipated, says Ayers, "The final version will include things like managed copy--which will address the main thing that hackers claim they're interested in." Specifically, using the content you purchase on other devices.

More on Managed Copy

The concept of managed copy is not new; it has been part of AACS from the beginning. "All of the studios are interested in doing it," says Ayers. "The studios have been looking forward, and realize they need to meet this consumer need for flexibility in the use of their content, whether they're making a backup or putting something on their home media jukebox server platform or their car. [The studios] have bought into the idea of managed copy, but there had to be a demonstration that the managed-copy scheme was secure."

So why has it taken so long for managed copy to take shape? "The structure of managed copy, how it's technically going to work, what will the rules and conditions for the offer of a managed copy be--part of it is just understanding the rights in offering a managed copy, the rights a content owner may or may not have," explains Ayers. "Potentially, you could have a situation where somebody has the right to distribute on disc, but nothing else; or, the distribution rights are limited to a specific region or continent."

How studios will implement managed copy, and what business model will back it, remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Studios won't take a one-size-fits-all approach to managed copy. The options that studios will offer (x number of legal disc backups, x number of transfers to another device) and the cost for those options (transfers could be free or sold on a per-copy basis) will vary, even among titles distributed by the same studio.

It's too early to tell which of the first- and second-generation high-definition players will be able to handle managed copy. Any players that will do so will need a firmware update to add support for AACS.

The pool of possible contenders is small, limited to players with an Internet connection. All HD DVD players have an ethernet connection; on the Blu-ray side, Sony's PlayStation 3, Samsung's BD-P1200, and Pioneer's BDP-HD1 have ethernet ports.

"The concept is that managed copy will be authorized via an online transaction, so there would need to be an online connection in order to do that transaction," explains Ayers. "Some players already have ethernet on the back. Or," he postulates, "you could have a small add-on device that authorizes the transaction."

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