You'll get your Mac news here from now on...

Help TMO Grow

Advertising Info

The Mac Observer Express Daily Newsletter

More Info

Site Navigation

Columns & Editorials

The Devil's Advocate
by John Kheit

iHippies, DRM & TiVo: Apple Files For New Copy Protection Patent [TMO Scoop]
July 14th, 2003

iHippies, DRM and TiVo

Apple filed a patent application for "Method and apparatus for copy protection" on December 20, 2002, which was published on July 3, 2003 as patent application No. 20030126445. The abstract describes the invention as follows:

Copy protection techniques that utilize a watermark and a permission key are disclosed. The copy protection techniques can provide single-copy copy protection in addition to different levels of copy protection. The permission key and the watermark can also permit the invention to yield variable levels of copy protection. In one embodiment, content including a watermark is transmitted to a recipient. The recipient is allowed to read the content but not record the content unless the recipient possesses a permission key.

Although the numerous forms of digital rights management (DRM) and copy protection will do little to further Apple's hippie-for-the-people marketing feel, the technology shows that Apple might be considering very interesting steps into the consumer and content business. Specifically, Apple shows their new DRM scheme may be applied to digital audio, digital video, DVD and television content.

Apple's latest DRM
The basic idea of this DRM scheme is to include a watermark in content that acts as a flag showing that the content is to be copy protected. If no "permission key" is included or available, then the user can only view/listen to the content, but is prevented from further copying it. If the user wants to make further copies, they will have to obtain a permission key; for example, by buying one over the Internet. When a user does have a permission key and wishes to make a copy/recording of the content, the system will only copy the content and not the permission key. That way subsequent copies will be limited, i.e., not further copyable, and probably traceable to the originating source. I suspect the attraction here is for a sort of viral marketing that Apple hopes to achieve with content. Make a copy for your buddy, but if your buddy wants full rights, they have to pay for their own permission key. Make too many copies, and start worrying about if some disgruntled copyright owner will trace back loose copies to the originator.

Of course the entire system depends upon devices that are capable of running the appropriate DRM software. On a computer this should be relatively straight forward. On a Macintosh you can expect that Apple will modify QuickTime and the file system to ensure permission keys may not be easily copied and that appropriate content gets stamped with do-not-copy watermarks. However, what may be more intriguing is that this technology is not limited to just the personal computer. The patent application talks about other devices:

The receiving device must be a compatible receiving device in order to be able to decode the watermark and decrypt the permission key. A receiving device may be a set top box receiver, a recording device, a monitor, a computer or any other suitable type of receiving device.

The application goes on to talk about suitable recording devices:

Recording device 130 includes a controller 132, a recording mechanism 134 and a recording medium 140. In the illustrated embodiment the recording medium 140 is a DVD disc 140. As can be appreciated, any suitable type of recording medium may be utilized in accordance with the present invention. By way of example, magnetic tape, magnetic disk, optical disk, magneto-optical disk, digital audio tape and any other suitable type of recording medium may be used.

A tough cookie to crack
Before crackers get too excited thinking that pilfering permission keys will be easy, Apple has thought of that and is using a very Mission Impossible-like scheme. Permission keys are provided from Apple in encrypted form, e.g., over the Internet. Then they are decrypted on approved devices and sent to a "key store." What is interesting about the key store is that it can self-destruct a permission key as soon as a copy is made.

For those hackers that think they can just copy the key during copying, Apple has thought of that too:

Permission key store 138 stores the permission key for a duration of time. Preferably, the duration of time does not exceed the time necessary for recording. Further, the permission key store may be placed in a secure area to prevent access to the permission key. By way of example, permission key store 138 may be embedded within an integrated circuit device such that access to permission key store 138 is impractical.

Apple further makes things more difficult for would-be pirates by proposing that multiple permission keys are required for a single piece of content:

In an alternate embodiment a single piece of the transmitted content may require more than one permission key for different segments of the transmitted content. By way of example, content that is one hour long may require a permission key for each fifteen-minute segment. In that case, a new permission key is transmitted to the receivers along with the content at the appropriate time intervals. Permission key store 138 then receives a new permission key and stores it accordingly such that the transmitted content may be continuously recorded without interruption.

So does that mean that this copy protection scheme cannot be broken? No. Almost any copy protection scheme made by anyone will be broken within a few months of being released. What is more interesting than the technical implementation, to me at least, is what that implementation suggests about Apple's future direction.

DRM may mean Apple is shifting its business focus towards content
Providing keys on content transmitted in 15 minute intervals suggests that Apple may become an even bigger player in the content provision business. It also suggests video; after all, 1 hour of streaming content with multiple permission keys suggests video, not audio, length content transmission. So the set top box market may be one Apple is interested in pursuing. The patent goes on to talk about protecting time-shifted video and other very-TiVo sounding functionality. Does this mean an Apple branded TiVo-like device with DVD recording capabilities will soon be released as discussed in its latest patent application? Not necessarily, but it certainly suggests the possibility.

Perhaps more likely, this evolving DRM technology will be applied to Apple's content provision business, which is currently limited to the iTunes Music Store (iTMS), and perhaps even to CDs in the future. The application goes on to note:

By way of example, a consumer may purchase a compact disc. The compact disc may contain audio tracks that include a watermark that is undetectable by the consumer. Should the consumer wish to make a copy of the audio track, the consumer may purchase the right to copy over the Internet, or other form of communication system. The permission key, in encrypted form, may be transmitted to the consumer to allow a copy of the audio track to be made.

In other words, the patent application seems to extend Apple's current copy protection technology to CDs. The idea would be to have future computers and recording devices disable CD ripping without the consumer paying more for the "privilege." However, the above paragraph might also suggest that Apple could use this scheme to release promotional music to consumers that could not be further copied. After the consumer decides she likes the song, Apple could then provide a mechanism allowing the listener with an opportunity to buy rights to further copy/record the music track to a CD or iPod.

DRM technology, so far, sucks
Personally, I loathe all DRM, including Apple's current implementation at the iTMS. I loathe it because every single DRM system I have ever used always encumbers me more than it ever does the pirates.

Although it's important to note that I'm not loath of DRM in principle, it's just that every single implementation I've seen thus far simply sucks. If someone advances the DRM state of the art and develops a system that lets me enjoy my full-quality content anywhere and anyway I like, yet prevents wide spread pilfering, then I'm all for it. However, no DRM system I'm aware of, including Apple's, allows a legitimate content consumer (or more accurately these days, a licensee) to move their content in an unfettered manner to alternative devices as they see fit. What most computer companies fail to comprehend is that entertainment content is not platform specific.

If I buy music, I do not buy it to listen to it exclusively on my PowerBook or iPod. I might like to enjoy it on my Nomad, Windows or Linux box. Years from now, I might like to enjoy it on devices not yet conceived. What is worse is the current trend of DRM schemes to require Internet authentication for enabling the access of content, like Apple's iTMS. A lot of content has become inaccessible because technology like the 8-track, magneto-optical drives (good luck reading your NeXT optical drive content today), 5.25" floppies, etc. have resulted in tons of content that is now inaccessible because the enabling technology is no longer made. With Internet DRM based solutions, we can expect tons more content to become inaccessible as such businesses change focus or go out of business.

The net result is that DRM schemes developed thus far, invariably, impede the legitimate enjoyment of content in multiple venues, and most limit the quality of the content itself. Whether by shoving watermarks into content or limiting encoding rates, there are always sacrifices being asked of consumers buying the content. The sad irony is that the pirates are going to do whatever they want anyway. And if you want to enjoy music from the iTMS on a non-Apple device, you're forced, wastefully, to burn the quality limited music to CD, then re-encode it, cumbersomely, which thereby reduces the quality further, only to then finally move it to your Nomad or Linux box. As asinine as this is, at least Apple provides some mechanism to move your content around. Still, just ripping your own CD avoids all of the hassle.

Same old song and dance
All of this boils down to a future where users are going to have to endure more hassles and far less control over how they enjoy content; it represents a future where the consumer may have to pay multiple times for the same content over time. As suggested in Apple's latest patent application, the inclusion of digital watermarks in regular audio CDs might represent a future where you'll have to ask Apple's permission for where and how you may enjoy their music. Corporations have funny ways of interpreting peace and love; it turns out to be control and money.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

Most Recent Columns From The Devil's Advocate

The Devil's Advocate Archives

Today's Mac Headlines

[Podcast]Podcast - Apple Weekly Report #135: Apple Lawsuits, Banned iPhone Ad, Green MacBook Ad

We also offer Today's News On One Page!

Yesterday's News


[Podcast]Podcast - Mac Geek Gab #178: Batch Permission Changes, Encrypting Follow-up, Re-Enabling AirPort, and GigE speeds

We also offer Yesterday's News On One Page!

Mac Products Guide
New Arrivals
New and updated products added to the Guide.

Hot Deals
Great prices on hot selling Mac products from your favorite Macintosh resellers.

Special Offers
Promotions and offers direct from Macintosh developers and magazines.

Browse the software section for over 17,000 Macintosh applications and software titles.

Over 4,000 peripherals and accessories such as cameras, printers, scanners, keyboards, mice and more.

© All information presented on this site is copyrighted by The Mac Observer except where otherwise noted. No portion of this site may be copied without express written consent. Other sites are invited to link to any aspect of this site provided that all content is presented in its original form and is not placed within another .