Adobe cripples Flash video with DRM

Seth Schoen, staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and one of the world's top DRM technical researchers, has written up an analysis of the DRM that Adobe has built into the latest version of Flash for videos, which prevents video viewers from making mashups and re-edits of the video they see on the net.

Amazingly, Adobe seems to have entirely missed the fact that the reason that the Flash video format has taken off is that it's so fluid, versatile and remixable -- not because they sucked up to some Hollysaurs and crippled their technology.

Now Adobe, which controls Flash and Flash Video, is trying to change that with the introduction of DRM restrictions in version 9 of its Flash Player and version 3 of its Flash Media Server software. Instead of an ordinary web download, these programs can use a proprietary, secret Adobe protocol to talk to each other, encrypting the communication and locking out non-Adobe software players and video tools. We imagine that Adobe has no illusions that this will stop copyright infringement -- any more than dozens of other DRM systems have done so -- but the introduction of encryption does give Adobe and its customers a powerful new legal weapon against competitors and ordinary users through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Recall that the DMCA sets out a blanket ban on tools that help "circumvent" any DRM system (as well as the act of circumvention itself). When Flash Video files are simply hosted on a web site with no encryption, it's unlikely that tools to download, edit, or remix them are illegal. But when encryption enters the picture, entertainment companies argue that fair use is no excuse; Adobe, or customers using Flash Media Server 3, can try to shut down users who break the encryption without having to prove that the users are doing anything copyright-infringing. Even if users aren't targeted directly, technology developers may be threatened and the technologies the users need driven underground.