DRM and Firmware Update Locks Thousands of Movie Fans Out of Their Movies

Another day, another story about copy protection locking legitimate customers from the very content they legally purchased. So for your viewing pleasure, we present yet another horror story of DRM gone wrong.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Copy protection is suppose to stop pirates from watching movies while legitimate customers are able to view their favorite movies, not the other way around. Unfortunately for some Samsung Blu-Ray player owners, that’s exactly what is happening right now.

NewTeeVee is reporting that a firmware update blocked many consumers from viewing over a dozen titles released by Warner and Universal Studios.

Currently, the solution is to downgrade to the previous firmware, but some owners report that this solution does not work. Reportedly, titles that are affected include The Book of Eli, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, The Incredible Hulk (2008), Battlestar Galactica Season 3, Sherlock Holmes, and Invictus.

From the report:

This isn’t the first time Blu-ray players have struggled with playing back certain movies. Earlier this year, customers reported issues with playing the Avatar Blu-ray disc on some Samsung players. The issue was apparently so widespread that Amazon was forced to alert customers of potential issues with a warning message on the movie’s product page. Similar warnings haven’t been put in place yet for the titles affected by the latest firmware issues.

So why does this keep happening to Blu-ray discs? You might have guessed by now: it’s all about copy protection. Regular DVDs used to have a copy protection technology that was easily circumvented because it was based on a single encryption key. Once that key was extracted, all DVDs were free for the taking, and tools to copy DVDs are now easily available, even though it’s still illegal to use them in most cases.

Blu-ray’s copy protection, on the other hand, is based on regularly updated encryption keys. Companies like Slysoft, which provides a Blu-ray copying tool, have to put significantly more effort into cracking these keys. Once a key is compromised, an update is released, which then also requires updates to Blu-ray players — and that’s where things have been going wrong left and right.

As we noted, this is just another story in a long line of issues facing legitimate customers when dealing with copy protection. It was only earlier this month that people who paid for Starcraft 2 have found themselves locked out of their own legally paid for game because the server that handled copy protection went down. In fact, it was only just the other day that problems with copy protection forced Ubisoft to discontinue the use of a very strict DRM system in favor of Steam.

If the copy protection didn’t exist in Blu-Ray, this would never have happened. This is why you would never experience a problem like this in VHS players because there was no such thing as an internet firmware update on them.

The punchline in all of this is that in each instance, if you pirated the content, you are not affected by these problems. If you legally paid for the media, you ultimately couldn’t even use the content. It’s the exact opposite of the promise by DRM vendors of locking out would-be pirates and having only legitimate customers enjoying your product. Critics, for years, warned that copy protection would have consequences like this, but it seems like, for a number of companies, these warnings were not heeded at their own peril. The sad part is, many other companies will also learn the hard way that copy protection will more than likely sting you in the end.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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