Fair Use Copy Prevention
September 10, 2002
Why MS's New Media Center PCs Suck

David Coursey, AnchorDesk's Senior Editor, explains why:
The fatal flaw inside MS's new Media Center PCs.

This really gets to the heart of the matter: since when did making copies of music to play on your other devices become piracy?

Here's the full text of the article in case the link goes bad:


David Coursey The fatal flaw inside MS's new Media Center PCs
David Coursey,
Executive Editor, AnchorDesk
Monday, September 9, 2002 Talk back!

If Microsoft's handling of digital-rights management in its new Media Center PCs is any indication, Redmond is perfectly happy to sell out its customers to keep the entertainment industry happy.

What I'm talking about are features built into Windows XP Media Center Edition that let some next-generation PCs act like TiVo-esque personal video recorders (PVRs). The first Media Center machines, due before Christmas from HP, also come with a DVD burner. That combination means you can copy TV programs you've recorded using the PVR features from your hard drive to DVD.

THAT'S WHERE the catch comes in: The DVDs you burn can only be played on the same machine on which they were recorded.

I'll pause now to let you reread that last sentence because you couldn't believe your eyes the first time through.

Click Here!
Microsoft says it's designed the Media Center this way to block the "wholesale" copying of copyrighted material. But--stop me if I'm wrong--I always thought "wholesale" referred to one person making a million copies of something and selling them, rather than a million people copying a single program for their own private use.

LET'S SAY I record The West Wing on my Media Center PC, but don't have time to watch it at home. Wouldn't it be great to burn the program and maybe a few others onto a DVD to watch on my laptop while I'm on an airplane? Or take it over to a friend's house, so we all can watch?

My TiVo lets me dub programs to videotape so I can carry them around. Why shouldn't my PC's DVD burner give me the same flexibility?

Microsoft says that making DVDs viewable only on the machines that burned them will help Hollywood see the PC not as a threat, but as an ally. But in so doing, the software giant could really be encouraging customers to see Media Center PCs as, well, useless.

Why is MS willing to make this trade-off?

I THINK the real goal here is to convince Hollywood that Microsoft itself--forget PCs!--isn't a threat, which will in turn make it easier for Bill Gates to cut preferential deals with the entertainment moguls. If solving Hollywood's piracy problems is what it takes for Bill to ink those deals, who cares what consumers want?

Or maybe Microsoft is trying to do to the entertainment business what many people believe the company did to the desktop software industry--helping potential competitors sail to their own doom. It's possible that Microsoft is acceding to Hollywood's wishes in order to let Tinseltown anger customers and make a fool of itself. Then Microsoft can say, "We tried doing it their way and look what happened!"--and then proceed into the digital-entertainment business as it pleases.

Whatever Microsoft's motives really are, I think that eventually consumers will inflict their wrath upon both MS and Hollywood. The entertainment industry needs to find new revenue models that reflect the realities of digital media and consumer preference. By kissing up to the Hollywood powers, Microsoft is only delaying the inevitable and siding with the bad guys against its own customers.

THE CHALLENGE IS for Microsoft to solve the rights-management problem in a way that consumers will accept (hint: lots of "fair" use), yet prevents thieves from getting rich off someone else's intellectual property. For example, Microsoft could have designed the system so that DVDs burned on Media Center machines could play on any DVD player, but be impossible to copy.

(Or maybe it won't really be impossible to copy Media Center DVDs: When I asked an HP rep about the DVD "problem" I was told--with a wink--that his company didn't think consumers would worry too much about the copy protection. Which I interpret as: "Easily downloadable hacks available everywhere soon!")

But if the Media Center PC's copy-protection scheme is an example of Microsoft's best thinking in this area, Redmond is off to a really lousy start.

What do you think? Was it wrong for Microsoft to build copy protection into the Media Center PC? How else could MS have prevented unwarranted copying while preserving fair use? TalkBack to me, and take my QuickPoll below!

Was it wrong for Microsoft to build copy protection into the Media Center PC?

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