Engadget editor shows us the “restrictions” in Digital Restrictions Management

I know, two stories from the same source. But this one hit one of my hot buttons a bit too hard to just skip.

Paul Miller, senior associate editor for Engadget recently posted about a nasty surprise that his Apple iPad had waiting for him. Instead of quoting the entire story I’ll do my best to summarize in bullet-point format:

  • Paul gets stuck in an airport with his iPad and buys a movie for $15 to pass the time (since his laptop battery is dead, the iPad was his only choice).
  • The download only gets 2/3 of the way completed before Paul has to board his flight.
  • Luckily his flight has in-flight WiFi. Unluckily for him, the port iTunes needs to access to download the movie is blocked (I have no idea how iTunes works so I’m just using the same terminology Paul did).
  • Paul finishes downloading the movie at home, and decides the iPad’s small screen is too small to truly enjoy the film. So Paul connects his iPad to his TV.

And… bam! The “Restrictions” part of Digital Restrictions Management kick in, and the iPad throws up “Cannot Play Movie / The connected display is not authorized to play protected movies.” Not surprisingly, Paul’s next move is to fire up a BitTorrent client and download an unrestricted copy of the same movie, which I would assume works fine.

The unfortunate part of Paul’s post is that he has bought into the misleading and loaded usage of terms such as “steal” and “theft” for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, that’s a much bigger problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, or probably even this year. But that’s another rant for another day. That, and the fact he gets bitten by DRM on a device built entirely around DRM, that is a brick until it’s connected once to a copy of iTunes on Windows or MacOS, is an unfortunate non-surprise to the readers of this blog. (Oh, yes, you read that right! The iPad will not work without being hooked to a computer with iTunes at least once! More on that in a future entry, maybe.)

The reality is that the MPAA is overdue to “get it” like the RIAA did. The RIAA finally figured out that it made more sense to sell unprotected music files via Amazon and even iTunes than it did to keep using digital locks to try to keep the honest people honest. It’s a step in the right direction, of course those are still MP3 and most record companies still aren’t embracing WAV/FLAC downloads (which I could understand being a little more expensive per track, but which I would actually buy).

But the MPAA has held onto “lock it down with more DRM” like a stubborn mule. Why, I don’t know. Movie producers and studios are finally grasping the concept of digital cinema, but a good many productions still originate on 35mm film. The new age is the digital age, an age of non-scarcity, where we can have as many copies as we want. DRM is a failure. Shame on you, MPAA; it’s time to let your obsession with DRM go.

Intel’s silicon shenanigans

As reported by Engadget,, Intel is experimenting with a somewhat novel CPU upgrade scheme. They want to charge you to unlock features of your CPU that are already there.

Now, it’s not unheard of for CPUs to have cores or cache memory disabled at the factory. It’s acceptable, perhaps even expected, that a chip manufacturer would disable a defective portion of a chip before shipping it out. This is in fact how maximum clock speeds are determined: a chip that cannot run reliably at, say, 2.0 GHz is tested again at 1.9 GHz, then 1.8 GHz, etc. down to a minimum acceptable speed for the class of CPU until the highest speed is found at which that particular CPU chip will function. It’s similar with cache and cores: quad-core chips with two defective cores will have two of the cores disabled and become dual-core chips instead, and a chip with a defect in part of the L2 cache will have that portion disabled.

The difference is that Intel is shipping out fully working CPUs and using a DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) scheme to lock them down, holding the full functionality for ransom. This is not how responsible companies operate. A few of the comments on the Engadget blog entry already indicate that Intel has lost goodwill with this rather cowardly move.

What to do? I personally recommend avoiding the purchase of the DRM-crippled CPU chips in question. It may not be practical to buy your next PC without a single Intel chip in it, but I certainly won’t blame you if you do. Intel’s “just testing it out… in a few select markets for now.” Let’s all grade this test a big fat F.