I got an email message last week from the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem trumpeting the release of the “finalized” version 1.0 DECE/UltraViolet specs.
Under normal circumstances, I would take the time to read the specs and summarize and comment on them here — as I have done with Marlin, Coral, XrML, DMP IDP, hNews, the RIAA watermark payload spec, and various others over the years. But I can’t do that, because DECE is demanding that anyone who wants to download the specs sign a nondisclosure agreement — which they say is non-negotiable.
Releasing a purported digital media standard under NDA (let alone a non-negotiable one) is unheard-of nowadays. Every recent consortium or standards body in this field makes its specs publicly available; at the outside, they require filling out a form with contact information.
If DECE wants to attract positive early press in the run-up to its planned summer launch, this is exactly the wrong the way to start. It’s hard not to draw a conclusion that DECE is using secrecy of the spec to bolster its security scheme; and if that’s the case, security experts will draw the conclusion that it can’t be much of a security scheme. Even the secrecy of crypto algorithms went out of fashion several years ago, dismissed by experts as “security by obscurity.”
Others will immediately assume that this is a sign of yet another paranoid Hollywood cabal and write it off. DECE has not exactly been lavishly forthcoming with information over the past couple of years anyway. Ars Technica had even used largely positive language in describing DECE, but I wouldn’t expect such relative goodwill to continue.
OK, Nate Anderson, Mike Masnick, Cory Doctorow, Slashdot denizens, etc. … all yours, go to it!
On to other matters. I’ve closed the poll I ran last week on Apple’s iTunes Match feature, which enables users to get legitimate versions of non-iTunes music tracks from Apple’s iCloud for a fee of $25 per year. Apple was ambiguous about whether this music would be offered as streams from the iCloud servers or as downloads to iTunes devices — so ambiguous that different journalists and commentators made different assumptions, while others hedged their bets.
By a factor of more than two to one (65% to 30%), the Copyright and Technology readership expects Apple to offer streaming of iTunes Match tracks instead of downloads, and moreover, streaming that only works with iTunes devices — that is, connected iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads) and PCs and Macs running iTunes software. A tiny 6% of voters expect that Apple will offer streaming to any Internet-connected device, as Amazon and Google do with their cloud music offerings.
I suspect that Apple is ambiguous about iTunes Match because the stream-vs.-download issue is still a point of contention with the record companies and music publishers. Apple undoubtedly prefers downloads for a number of reasons: no need to run streaming servers; lots of downloads to consumer devices promotes purchases of bigger, more expensive devices (as Nick Bilton of the New York Times pointed out). The only disadvantage of downloads to Apple is higher royalty payments, though this may be part of the ongoing negotiations.
The record companies, on the other hand, presumably see high potential for abuse from downloads. For $25 per year, you could download up to 25,000 illegal tracks from your favorite file-sharing site (or rip them from your friends’ CDs), exchange them for legal, high-quality AAC files, and delete the illegal ones. That’s a tenth of a cent per track! Such a deal!
We’ll see who’s right in the fall when Apple launches iTunes Match.
Meanwhile, some of you wondered where I got the phrase “iCloud Cuckoo Land” as the headline for last week’s article. Here’s the answer: search for “Cloud Cuckoo Land” (without the “i”) and you’ll find that it’s a reference to Aristophanes’ satirical comedy The Birds. Cloud Cuckoo Land is an imaginary (and unattainable) idealistic city in the air where everything is perfect. I thought the reference was apt.