Digital TV is simple to pirate, right?
February 19, 2003 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Jack Valenti (head of the Motion Picture Association of America) has been quoted numerous times recently, saying "A 12-year-old, with a click of a mouse, can send a movie hurtling to all of the five continents". A graduate researcher at MIT set to test out the accuracy of the soundbite, with interesting results.
posted by mathowie (42 comments total)
 
hehehe interesting, although i'm not sure this is the best approach to refuting Valenti. Fact of the matter is, it's actually pretty easy to do what he's referring.

Yes, it's not a single mouseclick, but it's relatively trivial to get decss and a VOB ripper. A full DVD movie is generally around 4 GB (although the discs hold much more, for extra features / multiple versions, etc.). This can be compressed to either VCD (~1 GB, 2 CDs for a movie) or DIVX (variable bit rate, often around 500M for a movie). They're widely available on kazaa lite, the gnutellas, etc.

And can a twelve year old do this? Yeah, probably. And once he's set up to do it, he can do a second -- and third -- and fourth one real fast.

Valenti's a jerk, don't get me wrong. And the problem will probably be most easily solved by a drastic cut in the price of DVDs and CDs. But the real issue here isn't technological prowess. Eventually it will be a mouseclick, and a lot of IP questions will still be unresolved.
posted by condour75 at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2003


Of course your results are going to be negative, this is a 5 hour movie in a format that has a notoriously small compression ratio. If he encoded it to something like DivX, the file would have been significantly smaller.
posted by bryanzera at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2003


yeah, but it's funny.
posted by grimley at 4:43 PM on February 19, 2003


I don't know about the Baby Jesus, but DivX makes Jack Valenti cry

that's a nice -- if flawed -- experiment. Obviously the Valentis and Rosens of the world have a very thin grasp of the actual technology that is scaring them shitless, but compression of big files with acceptable resulting quality is probably the most powerful tool P2P networks can count on (until fast connections are available for a majority of users)
posted by matteo at 4:52 PM on February 19, 2003


Keep in mind that this researcher was responding to specifically the idea that HDTV signals are easy to record and spread around, which is why he grabbed the content he did, and why he kept it in that format (why would you want less than High Definition TV?)

I don't know if it's even easy to move full movies around. Last summer I did some research to see how long it took to do what Jack says. I wanted to see how easy it was to find a current release, obtain it, then watch it.

I found myself spending days finding movies, then hours and hours downloading giant 600Mb-1Gb files. Then they required decompression, reassembly, and often would take up gigs and gigs of my hard drive as temp space. When I wanted to watch it on a TV, I had to burn them to disc in new vcd formats, then run a nest of wires from my computer to TV just to see it.

To see Spiderman on my tv at home took roughly three days of work, and the end result was a crappy picture, crappy sound version that was barely tolerable. I know hard drives and bandwidth and compression are all likely to continue getting better, but I found the entire process to be more trouble than it was worth and Valenti's argument a bit overblown.

I just wish I wrote my research up with this exhaustive detail. Perhaps I will someday.
posted by mathowie at 4:54 PM on February 19, 2003


Even if -technically- you can try sending movies cross-contintents, this study and the actual fact that broadband services and availabillity just plain suck outside of the U.S (a fact I have to live with every day) debunk the thought that it's easy enough (yet). The day will come when broadband will be available nearly everywhere, but that will take quite some time to happen.
posted by betobeto at 4:55 PM on February 19, 2003


Five continents?

Aren't there seven, well, six if you don't count Antarctica (which is stupid because the 'net is there, just like every where else)?

Wondering which continent Mr. Valenti is just not counting, and wondering what sort of bias he's exposing thusly.

On another note, was it intentional that the linked research article did NOT have ONE instance of the term "Usenet" contained therein? Usenet, to me, is the best, most efficient, and most reliable method by which to obtain large binary files. I download high quality video and audio files to the tune of at least 800 MB a day from Usenet. It's my Tivo and my kazaa and my napster all rolled into one.

Why the MPAA and RIAA haven't ever prosecuted "piracy" via Usenet with the zeal with which they've gone after p2p is just another indication of how ignorant and clueless they are about the technology they're trying to suppress.
posted by WolfDaddy at 5:07 PM on February 19, 2003


mathowie: It all depends on the codec and the compression (i.e., MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DiVx), which isn't accounted for in this MIT study beyond a general rip. Granted, unless you have a Betacam SP master and some pretty expensive hardware (something that goes beyond a straight MPEG-2 hardware codec and masters colors, etc.), the results are going to look inferior to a television broadcast (if we are talking standard VCD or DVD burning, which is what the MPAA seems to be railing again), even when it's done right in prosumer hands.

Of course, when someone develops a compression format that is better than what we have right now, no different from a television broadcast or a DVD in an age in which the DVD-R completely replaces the CD-R and gigabytes of space are as plentiful as megabytes are today, then the MPAA will have a pretty legitimate axe to grind. And if some enterprising young coder develops an open source HDTV codec, then all hell will break loose.
posted by ed at 5:08 PM on February 19, 2003


Generally if the material's available legally and at a reasonable price, it's not worth even bothering with any of this. My best experience with pirated material was finding the Star Wars Holiday Special online. (It's every bit as bad as Lucas said it was, if not worse) But having this channel open makes it more difficult for distributors to create false scarcity or gouge markets. I think that might be their bigger concern at the moment.
posted by condour75 at 5:18 PM on February 19, 2003


Wondering which continent Mr. Valenti is just not counting, and wondering what sort of bias he's exposing thusly.

I'll give you a hint - it's Africa.
posted by SweetJesus at 5:58 PM on February 19, 2003


Personally, as someone who has vowed to see copyright law reformed, this article was really a waste. I am glad it was posted, but the author of the target link really set himself up to find the results he was looking for.

He indirectly makes a good argument that said twelve year old needs to have a good amount of knowledge and equipment.

The truth is clearly somewhere inbetween the "12 year old and a few mouse clicks" and "43 gb and impossible even for me some super smart MIT guy".

My main problem is that this type of thing detracts from the debate. We are clearly on a line towards easier portability of media. I feel that the question that should be addressed is whether or not we as a society wish to let this trend continue or try and squash it.
posted by rudyfink at 6:00 PM on February 19, 2003


On the other hand, with my 10mb connection and a copy of Direct Connect, I can get most Divxs in about 15 minutes. Anyone want the Academy screener of The Two Towers?
posted by Hildago at 6:07 PM on February 19, 2003


WinMX + OpenNap servers = 700 k/s download speed for a movie (it depends on the queue of course, if you're lucky the other user will ask you to trade and start your d/load pretty fast, otherwise you need to stay connected for a few hours, maybe go towork, the movie will be there when you come back, or the morning after at the very latest)

a few codecs, and your DivX will run smooth.
There's also a nice Yamakawa DVD player that can play DivX cd's too very well on your TV
posted by matteo at 6:10 PM on February 19, 2003


Aren't there seven, well, six if you don't count Antarctica (which is stupid because the 'net is there, just like every where else)?

How about counting them this way:
Eurasia, Africa, Oceania, North America, South America.
It still leaves Antarctica out, which I agree is stupid, but it eliminates that whole "Europe and Asia are different continents" thing. Because, obviously, they aren't. Just look at a map--it's all one big land mass. Plus, it gives all those people living in the middle of the Pacific a continent to call their own.

I'm negotiable on the Australia/Oceania point, but no way are you going to convince me that Europe and Asia are separate continents. If Europe and Asia are separate continents, then North and South Africa are separate continents. And they aren't.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2003


I'll give you a hint - it's Africa.

Ah, it's uninhabited. That's right I forgot. :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:36 PM on February 19, 2003


Paging WolfDaddy: Shut the hell up! They can easily pressure ISP's to stop carrying certain newsgroups and sue places like supernews into oblivion.

This reminds me of an amusing thing I heard in an interview with some college kid about what he was doing for internet music while napster was shut down. He said he was using... FTP. Right. More selection, better quality, and faster. FTP. Yeah.
posted by wobh at 6:38 PM on February 19, 2003


I found a recent popular film starring an ex-rapper with a "frozen" handle the day before it opened in theaters (I used mldonkey, for those keeping score at home). But my friends/wife/whoever and I aren't going to sit around the computer and watch a movie (and in fact, I never did watch the film).

I am intrigued by the potential offered by my XBOX to watch bootleg movies on the teevy in a decent (i.e. better than VCD) format, though I haven't got the nerve to buy and install a modchip, particularly with Microsoft's blocking modded consoles from XBOX Live.

I'm happy to support the copyright holder if something is readily available. It took me about a month to find and retrieve all the pieces of Heat Vision and Jack, but it was worth it. (Sorry, Messrs. Stiller, Scrab, et. al. If it makes you feel any better, I bought Zoolander on DVD.)
posted by britain at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2003


Britain
but you can't miss the 120 Gigabyte hard disk mod. really, think about it
posted by matteo at 6:46 PM on February 19, 2003


academic network connection+kazaa light+computer with RCA video out+video projector and stereo = ghetto home theatre (at least it keeps me from spending good money on bad movies (transporter comes to mind)).

The real point to be made is not that it's not possible, it's that it's not possible NOW. but given tech development and better compression (whcih he does ignore) it is an eventuallity that someone will figure out a good way to keep a relative level of quality while limiting size and the 12 year olds will have a fieldday.....but that begs the question of how many people really want to watch 5 hours of defensive superbowl.

oh, and Hildago, it looks great on the big screen :)
posted by NGnerd at 6:57 PM on February 19, 2003


Ah, it's uninhabited. That's right I forgot. :-)

I bet there are a lot of internet cafes in the Congo, and Rwanda...
posted by SweetJesus at 6:59 PM on February 19, 2003


They can easily pressure ISP's to stop carrying certain newsgroups

They can?? Are you sure? What's your basis for this assertion? An ISP can decide not to carry, for example, alt.*, but I haven't heard of anyone being directed to do it by force of law...yet, I guess I should say.

Suing Supernews out of business is also a dicey matter. Could the phone company be sued out of existence simply because people use phones to help in the commission of crimes? Could a power company be sued out of existence because their power grid was used to power a warez server?
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2003


Could a file sharing service be sued out of existance simply because people use it to swap files?

No, wait...
posted by pmurray63 at 7:33 PM on February 19, 2003


Upon reading the Valenti quote, I couldn't help but thinking of alternative ways of interpreting the same data.

In a more enlightened industry, I would expect an exec to say with elation: "Wow, we can distribute our product worldwide at no cost! Think of what that will do for our profit margins: no expensive pressing, packaging, transportation, wholesale storage, retail distribution, overhead, markup and wastage. We'll make a fortune!".

I must have stepped into a alternate world. Oops.
posted by matt_wartell at 7:56 PM on February 19, 2003


My oh my, does that "researcher" enjoy footnotes!

This document has an interesting style. It's certainly not a technical document, and I rarely see his sort of writing in computer science at all. I'm not sure exactly how I'd describe it. Flamboyant, maybe? It's even more casual than a Maxim article, and he is overexplicit in his descriptions of the scenario. Do we really need to know he uses a Lucent WaveLAN 802.11b PCMCIA wireless network adapter, or could he have just said he used his 11mbps wireless card?

It screams "B.S" and "written as a joke in one sitting."

One thing I found amusing is that he seems so precise at times, and yet he tells us that a kilobit per second is the same as 1024 bits per second. Any computer science student who has taken a networking class should be able to tell you that it isn't (foldoc, too).
posted by Edge100x at 11:16 PM on February 19, 2003


I should have linked directly to the foldoc information on data rates there.
posted by Edge100x at 11:18 PM on February 19, 2003


he said as 12 year old could send a movie.. it said nothign about encoding and then sending... i dont think sending someone a 200mb file over aim is unheard of.. i send large files all the time as i am a musician.. the refutation is twisting the initial point and is typical science/math-guy overcomplication
posted by cmicali at 11:41 PM on February 19, 2003


I started up Microsoft Outlook, addressed an e-mail to my best friend, dragged and dropped SuperBowl.mpg into the e-mail and pushed "Send".

*chokes* Glad he's not my best friend...
posted by Galvatron at 1:59 AM on February 20, 2003


Yeah, and using the same logic a full Metallica album is 700 megabytes and also very difficult to move around.

But wait, it's actually about 60 meg! What's going on? Oh, I know.. he deliberately failed to take into account compression techniques which make file-sharing feasible in the first place!

Worthless article.
posted by cell at 2:05 AM on February 20, 2003


As Matt pointed out above cell:

Keep in mind that this researcher was responding to specifically the idea that HDTV signals are easy to record and spread around, which is why he grabbed the content he did, and why he kept it in that format (why would you want less than High Definition TV?)

You could actually compress the Metallica album down to a 16k stream. What would that be? 3MB or so?

The point is. If it's important enough to have and pay dearly for the HDTV experience, why then the attack on inferior super compressed files that are disseminated via "pirate channels"?
posted by crasspastor at 2:43 AM on February 20, 2003


Well, possible disagreements are twofold here:

1) Who ever said that HDTV quality is important enough to pay dearly for, when the alternative is to get the content free (or for a negligable amount of money, if you want to quibble)?

2) Film studios put out movies at a high picture quality because they want to show the film at its absolute best. They could argue that by distributing poor-quality copies the overall experience of the film is degraded and people tell other people it's not very good etc etc (that's an argument I've heard used against cheap pirated videos before).

I'm just playing devils advocate here. I believe the MPAA and RIAA need to rethink their business models to take new technology into account.

But the linked article is demolishing a straw man, and it's not useful.
posted by cell at 2:54 AM on February 20, 2003


1) Who ever said that HDTV quality is important enough to pay dearly for, when the alternative is to get the content free (or for a negligible amount of money, if you want to quibble)?

It is being sold as HDTV right? Therefore, if it is the MPAA's prerogative to attack internet file sharing because intellectual content may be spread far and wide, why then the disingenuousness of attacking the medium in which inferior copies of the more important "HDTV Experience" are not reliably nor cost-effectively reproduced?

2) Film studios put out movies at a high picture quality because they want to show the film at its absolute best. They could argue that by distributing poor-quality copies the overall experience of the film is degraded and people tell other people it's not very good etc etc (that's an argument I've heard used against cheap pirated videos before).

Sure. But why then charge a premium for the best quality if you're going to simltaneously fuck with the freedom of millions of the internet-wise if a rare few of them share cheesy copies of your music or your movies? How about a tiered approach? You want the lo-fi or the hi-fi? Split the cost, if it's so damned important to tout your crisp, high definition mastering as a selling point. Let some of us buy the VHS copies, instead of phasing them away. We'll hook up VCRs, just like in the old days and make a copy or two. It's only because we like your shit.
posted by crasspastor at 3:32 AM on February 20, 2003


To see Spiderman on my tv at home took roughly three days of work, and the end result was a crappy picture, crappy sound version that was barely tolerable

I watch movies exclusively on my PC. I download them from the Fasttrack network, in 20-30 minutes per Featured Presentation. With a 40 Gb second HD, I can have a movie jukebox of about 50 movies without even trying. I live in Korea and have monster broadband for pennies a day, unmetered and uncapped. I watch 'screener' versions before they've been released to theatre. If they suck, I watch them and delete them, if they rock I burn them to a CD (which is not a hassle, because with the latest Divx or Xvid codecs, they fit quite easily at pretty much VHS quality) for later.

I am your future.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:32 AM on February 20, 2003


Also, I like beer quite a lot.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:42 AM on February 20, 2003


Shouldn't a good movie continue to be good even if the quality of the recording is crap? If the quality of the recording is crap, why would people relate this to the film itself?

Bah. Puny illogical humans.

I own plenty of films on VHS - some taped off the telly on LP as well :o - but they didn't suddenly improve or become amazingly spectactular when I bought copies on DVD.

Arr!
posted by digiboy at 6:09 AM on February 20, 2003


Why the MPAA and RIAA haven't ever prosecuted "piracy" via Usenet with the zeal with which they've gone after p2p is just another indication of how ignorant and clueless they are about the technology they're trying to suppress.

SSSHHHH! Wolfdaddy, you're going to spoil everything for us! My theory is that the MPAA and RIAA simply don't know Usenet exists, and that if those who use it just keep their mouths shut, they'll never find out.

Upon further reading, wobh said the same thing. I should have known.
posted by deadcowdan at 7:19 AM on February 20, 2003


I am your future.

That's good to hear. I was wondering what I was going to do this weekend.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:15 AM on February 20, 2003


Shouldn't a good movie continue to be good even if the quality of the recording is crap? If the quality of the recording is crap, why would people relate this to the film itself?

What if what's "good" about a good movie isn't the script, but the special effects, the cinematography, or the sound design? A lot of these get lost in the translation to a poor-quality recording. Even if these qualities aren't the only redeeming ones for a film, the studios spend a lot of money producing these qualities, and they don't want their investment to go to waste. (Otherwise, in a world of all-poor-quality copies, people actually notice when the writing is subpar!) Not to mention the fact that the people involved in the production of these qualities (cinematographers, etc.) have at least some clout within the industry, and they don't want non-representative copies of their work to be widely seen.
posted by faustessa at 11:16 AM on February 20, 2003


It screams "B.S" and "written as a joke in one sitting."

Not according to the guy's blog (at least before he edited it this morning). Last night it said that he probably spent more time on it than his thesis.
posted by pmurray63 at 1:27 PM on February 20, 2003


I am your future.

Metafilter: I am your future. No I am!

And, lelilo, shouldn't that be "I was wondering who I was going to do this weekend?" :-)

deadcowdan: far from shutting up, I'm asking around (vewwy vewwy carefully) to see what I can find out from those connections I have within the entertainment and the commercial Usenet access biznizzes as to why no one does anything about Usenet "piracy". Since I happen to know that a large portion of "illegal" file trading is done in Hollywood itself, it'll be interesting to see what the answers will be.

If I disappear, though, check my safe deposit box. All the answers will be there to be released on event of my death or dissapparance ;-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:33 PM on February 20, 2003


My favorite line:

I decided that I would record Super Bowl XXXVII for my first experiment, as this was to be a sterling example of native 720p programming that is available via terrestrial broadcasts. Also, I love American football and I planned to watch Alias after the game.

LOL.
posted by darren at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2003


If I disappear, though, check my safe deposit box. All the answers will be there to be released on event of my death or dissapparance ;-)

Key. I need the key.

Seriously, I've often wondered the same thing as you - why the various Hollywood rent-a-cops seem to have a huge blind spot where Usenet is. Usenet is, after all, quite a bit older than any Napster wannabe, and when I went online, that was really the only place to go to get free files (cough **PRON** cough). I'd be interested to hear anything you find out.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:55 PM on February 20, 2003


Key. I need the key.

It's taped to the underside of the bench at 51st and Maple. You know what I mean, right? I'm talking in code.

So, my very informal research seems to have turned up a capitalistic vs. techo-libertarian split, not suprising at all:

Those in the entertainment industry either don't know Usenet exists (one former television studio head thought newsgroups were a feature of Outlook Express), bury their heads in the sand when it comes to figuring out what to do with binary distribution via Usenet (one movie studio exec freely admits to using Usenet to get DVD rips ... but swears they are copies of DVDs he owns), or are holding out for someone with the right way to present a way to capitalize on file sharing technology in a way the ... uh, extremely narrow-focused people that run a lot of Hollywood will embrace and understand (many in Hollywood drool over DivX or similar compression technologies for many various and sundry reasons, but can't think of a way to take advantage of it in a way that ensures that the conglomerates can squeeze every last red cent out of it while losing no, zero, zip, zilch, red cents to "piracy").

The BOFH's I've spoken with laugh maniacally and say that Usenet's far too large, far too entrenched in the warp and woof of the Internet, and has wayyyy more money behind it than the p2p industry has, even if they don't have 100 million subscribers. Information wants to be, and will be, free and all that.

So, no scandalous revelations here ... just same old same old. I'm sure I'm on a hit list now for alla that though. :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:22 PM on February 21, 2003


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