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.



  1. Lots of computer software begins its life as a tool for piracy, then turn ‘legitimate’ later on. This will be no acception.

    Speaking of mashups and re-edits, I can compare them to graffiti. I’m not saying that there is no good or interesting art that comes out of it, but these day I have an ambivalent feeling that the cost is just too great to make these activities desirable.

    In graffiti’s case, lots and lots of public facilities and private houses are vandalized just because someone wants to write their name on it, while decaying neighborhoods, disrespecting other users and wasting a lot more money than needed in restoration.

    Yes, I know that there is a Banksy in 1 of 100000, and I know that some homeowners are so open that they let everyone graffiti their house.

    In the re-edit/remix’s case, lots and lots of videos are just exact duplicates of the original, or just plain horrible work, just because someone wants to tell the whole world instead of his friends one single joke, while encourages the use of the medium for piracy and opens up an irreversible flaw for author who just wants to release their videos as CC:BY-ND-NC.

    Yes, I know that there is a (you name it) in 1 out of 1000000, and I know that there are plenty of filmmakers who happily lets others cut their film into pieces.

    With that said, I’m not saying that I support DRM. But I think the DRM is more acceptable – if it is not forced on all videos, and if the author has the choice on whether the video will have it or not.

  2. Adobe has been sucking for quite sometime now. At least since the bought out Macromedia. I’m thinking of reinstalling Photoshop 6 just to return to the good old days before auto-updates and drm.

  3. * Sorry, typo. “acception” -> “exception”

    Anyone who can shred some light on this dilemma is welcome. :)

  4. I’d like to see Adobe ditch DRM efforts and jump start supporting some linux OS. Most people I know only use MS because of the Adobe suite.

  5. While I agree that this is an absurdly backward and counterproductive step, I’m going to have to take issue with your contention that remixability was at at heart of flash video’s success.

    IMHO, watching flash video take off over the past few years (and being involved in some early vidcasting efforts) the reasons flash video came to prominence were more to do with the ubiquity of the flash client and plugin software, the greatly enhanced speed (and reliability) of video streamed in flash, the availability of a wide variety of online flash re-encoders, the sheer clunkiness of the alternatives (primarily real video and quicktime) and of course youtube.

    You have to remember that for the longest time, mpeg 4 video was not re-editable on windows – even when converted in Super or Virtual Dub – by anyone but the hardest core of geeks; it’s literally only in the last couple of years that packages like Adobe Premier, Windows Movie Maker etc, have made re-editing ripped flash videos practical. I’d certainly agree that mashup videos are all to the good, a totally defensible interaction with the materials of our common culture – just not that they lead to the success (or right now are significant enough to effect the continuing success) of flash video on the web.

  6. It sounds like the DRM only applies to a streaming server setup, not the far more popular progressive download?

    And I agree with Gareth that the Flash plugin just simply lends itself for displaying video, regardless of remixing.

    Anyone who has tried to integrate any other online video format in a cross-browser, cross-platform way and customize look and functionality would conclude that Flash is lightyears ahead of the other options.

  7. Also agree with Gareth/Elnico on the real reasons why Flash video has become so prevalent; afaict, this is Adobe is responding to market demand rather than a nefarious attempt to circumvent remix tools and opensource alternatives.

    Content owners who imho misguidedly wish to “protect” their content (think big tv) will be able to do so while staying within or returning to the Flash ecosystem, users impacted by this will route around as usual.

  8. I work for a large media company and I’m also the owner of a Flash based vidoe player. During a conversation with Adobe to show off new products, the question raised by the broadcast division about DRM support. Adobe isn’t creating DRM because they want to cripple video, they want to create DRM so they don’t lose the greedy customer.

    Don’t believe me; try to view ABC network shows online.

  9. This is a good thing.

    The introduction of DRM to Flash video, despite the fact we’d all like to live without it, means providers like the BBC will be able finally to consider a fully platform independent method to distribute content with the DRM that the rights holders literally demand. Right now, Windows Media DRM is as useful as breasts on a fish to me and my Mac.

    And “remixability”? get off it, that holds no interest for content producers. Where did you get that from?

    This will only make FLV an even more popular choice for content producers – your opening comments and title are utter garbage. As has already been said, this is a response to market demand (and the market is the content producers and rights holders) and FLV is still technologically and visibly miles in front of any other online video solution.

  10. I think this is as much about content protection about as it is about shutting down projects like Gnash, which aims to be an open-source equivalent to Adobe’s Flash player/plugin. Adding DRM to Flash makes it more difficult for Gnash to reach feature parity and gain a foothold, which helps Adobe maintain control of the Flash format (the specs to which are only available to those who promise never to implement a competing Flash player).

    DRM: Not just anti-consumer and anti-standards, but also anticompetitive.

  11. I must have sensed this implicitly when I’ve denied every attempt made to upload Flash 9 onto my computer. And hell, I’m not even trying to repurpose Flash video.


  12. “fully platform independent method to distribute content with the DRM that the rights holders literally demand.”

    Haute Pie, do you know how ridiculously incorrect this statement is? Fully platform independent?

  13. “The Net perceives censorship as damage and routes around it.”
    E.F.F. co-founder John Gilmore

    @#10 I must accept your rabidly pro-industry “your only right is to consume” stance as mere trolling in this forum but I do agree with you that this is a good thing.

    It is good that a new wave of folks realize what a poor corporate citizen Mud Brick has been since its inception. I remember paying $500 per printer license fees for postscript when they started. Practical laser printing could not grow until HP engineered an alternative.

    It is good that the truly innovative producers, i.e. the kids on You-tube, will develop newer and better tools to both create real entertainment and circumvent this silly lock-down of corporate “content”.

    It is good that to support these new innovators, You-tube will finally be forced to migrate to an open HD format that the audience wants.

    It is good most of us on this forum understand the disingenuous absurdity of your statement “the market is the content producers and rights holders”. My dictionary defines market as “An opportunity for selling or buying anything; demand, as shown by price offered or obtainable by barter.” I fail to see the demand side in your equation.

    So, yes it is a good thing, although perhaps a bit of a pain until the reroute is complete.

  14. More histrionics please. FLV hardly lends itself to editing(1) to begin with and as others pointed out grew in popularity due to the ease of use for the viewer rather than anything else.

    (1) Please note that “remixing” and “editing” are not the same thing. If you have trouble with this concept please consult your local audio professional to have them demonstrate the differences.

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