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Managed Copy a Work in Progress

19 Feb, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

Some of the Blu-ray Discs consumers are buying today have a feature built in that isn’t advertised and can’t be accessed.

Managed copy offers consumers the ability to make at least one full-resolution, DRM-protected copy of the Blu-ray content they own, a requirement of the new licenses content owners sign with the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACS-LA), the industry consortium in charge of licensing AACS copy protection used on Blu-rays.

But while managed copy is now required, several issues are keeping it from being immediately and widely available.

Current Blu-ray players can’t handle the feature, and no players that do handle it have been announced. The servers needed to authorize the copies aren’t up and running, and likely won’t be for months, according to AACS-LA. Apple users are currently out of luck, with no managed copy support for iTunes, iPods and iPhones.

And the words “managed copy” elicit a tepid response from major studios, which will have strict control over the copies. Studios will be able to decide whether they charge for them, as well as whether more than one copy will be available per disc.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating and developing our go-to-market strategy for managed copy,” said one studio executive. “In general we see managed copy as a complement rather than a replacement technology for other delivery options.”

So far only one independent has even bothered to note that its Blu-ray supports managed copy.

“The players don’t exist yet; we know that,” said Jason Rosenfeld, founder of Scenic Labs, whose Dec. 10
BluScenes’ Coral Reef Aquarium release was the first to highlight support for managed copy. “But there will be, and [managed copy] fits our model. The kind of content we offer plays well off a media server.” He said BluScenes’ managed copies will be free.

Michael B. Ayers, chairman of AACS-LA, said that once the authorization servers are up and running, it’ll be up to the consumer electronics companies to release players that support the feature. AACS-LA will host a default server, but studios and third parties can start their own.

“We want to do it right,” he said. “It’s not a project that’s been undertaken before.”

Andy Parsons, SVP of corporate communications and new product planning for Pioneer and chair of the Blu-ray Disc Association promotion committee in the United States, said the demand for managed copy will cover both home media servers and portable media players, and “should provide an efficient, legal way to fulfill” the need for consumer high-definition back-ups.

“The economics are uncharted waters, however, since we’ve never had a packaged medium that was designed to enable copying and/or transcoding from the original source files,” he added. “Once we see managed copy-equipped hardware products beginning to emerge, it should be very interesting to see how the business models will take shape.”

Russ Crupnick, senior analyst with research firm The NPD Group, said Blu-ray consumers already are used to getting a digital copy included as part of the bargain with many of their purchases and may shun the idea of paying for a managed copy.

“Especially younger ones, [they] see access to managed copy or similar deliverables as a ‘fundamental right’ that comes with the purchase of the movie,” he said. “They won’t be willing to pay a premium.”

Crupnick also pointed out that managed copy not working with Apple products may “poison the well for the entire enterprise.”

“That’s only because there’s been no [AACS-LA] submission from Apple,” Ayers pointed out. “Certainly, if Apple is interested, we would gladly add their submission and synch it all up.”

Apple did not have a comment for this story as of press time.

Richard Bullwinkle, chief evangelist for Rovi Corp., said Apple isn’t likely to do anything regarding Blu-ray or managed copy any time soon.

“It seems Apple’s approach is ‘buy it from us, or don’t use it on our product,’” he said. “It isn’t likely that the studios are going to strengthen Apple’s grip on content delivery, or that Apple will give in and support other DRMs.”

Ayers said he wasn’t sure whether managed copies would one day supplant the digital copies currently included with some Blu-rays, though he did note that with managed copy, “you don’t have to do the extra disc.”

“It’s the user’s machine making the copy,” he explained.

Ayers pointed to initiatives such as Walt Disney Studios’ KeyChest and the recent gains made by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) as boding well for the future of Blu-ray managed copy.

Walt Disney Studios’ KeyChest concept, expected this year, will allow owners of Disney films to legally and easily move that content across numerous platforms and devices. And DECE, a coalition of studios, software and hardware companies, recently approved a file format for digital content that can be moved around and viewed, in both standard and high-def, in much the same way.

Bullwinkle said managed copy would be a “milestone in technology, but not necessarily a great use case for most consumers.”

“Storing between 4GB and 30GB of data requires a lot of home storage,” he said. “What will eventually be a better use case for consumers is digital lockers, where a consumer buys a title and has the right to stream the title to any device in any format, including high-definition. However, streaming high-def content requires faster Internet speeds than most consumers have today.”

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