Hollywood Plots End of Film Reels

I filed this story for Wired News about an announcement from Hollywood's six major studios that they have agreed on technical specs for digital distribution and display of movies. Digital Cinema Initiatives, the group founded in 2002 to bring studios, theater owners and tech manufacturers together in planning an industrywide shift to digital cinema, released version 1.0 of its requirements and specifications yesterday.

Here's the doc — PDF Link. out of all 175 pages, nearly half are devoted to antipiracy measures.

AES 128-bit encryption of each digital movie file is part of the security prescription, as are DRM provisions. During the spec unveiling at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, panelists representing studios, theater owners, and cinematographers sat onstage, flanked by giant gold Oscars statues. Some described the shift to digital as the "biggest technology upgrade in Hollywood since talkies."

Walt Disney Company SVP of Media Technology Bob Lambert characterized the antipiracy approach for d-cinema as "military- or defense-grade," even stricter than protections designed to keep consumer DVDs off filesharing networks. "Because this is a plan for securing a B2B system," said Lambert, "The cost can be higher and the measures stronger."

I asked a few tech experts outside of Hollywood for their take:

Security provisions in the DCI spec deal mostly with what happens in theaters, and detail an open security architecture that allows a variety of tech vendors to compete and hone their technologies over time. The system proposed by DCI relies on digital rights management, watermarking, content encryption and key management. Digital movie files are to be encrypted for transport and receipt by theaters, which then would use decryption keys to unlock the content. The system is also designed to generate a data forensics bread-crumb trail, with the intent of tracing piracy incidents after the fact back to the theaters in which they occurred.

Outside Hollywood, analysts' opinions on the feasibility of the DCI security specs were mixed. "The devil is in the details," said security analyst Bruce Schneier, "and this document doesn't contain the details."

"Tracking it to the theater won't help, because attackers with camcorders could just make their visits to theaters random," said security analyst Jacob Appelbaum of LogicLibrary. "It means that the camcorders just have to fit into the crowd, and then the theaters have a reason not to adopt this. It's already against the law."

Studio representatives acknowledge that the DCI security specifications do nothing to prevent in-theater copying of movies, which remains a top piracy method. "These technical solutions won't solve internal theft by camcorders," said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. "But we're working on human-resources solutions and incentives to help address that part of the problem."

Others cited the difficulties involved in the plan's "forensic watermarking" provisions. "There's no such thing as a watermark that is both invisible and hard to remove, because by definition, a watermark that adds no perceptible information to a signal leaves no perceptible change behind after it is removed," said Cory Doctorow, European-outreach coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Link to Wired News story.