New Blu-ray member Warner Bros. would support iHD layer, oppose mandatory managed copy


Burbank (CA) - In an interview today with TG Daily, Warner Home Video senior vice president for marketing management, Steve Nickerson, told us his company would support a motion by fellow Blu-ray Disc Association member Hewlett-Packard to adopt iHD as the interactive program format for BD discs, either in addition to or in place of the currently supported BD-Java.

However, he reaffirmed his company's stand in favor of studio-directed management of the AACS managed copy provision. The system Warner supports, said Nickerson, gives content providers - including studios such as Warner Bros. - final say over which BD discs can be copied from a player, at the time the copy is requested. The AACS system is supported by both Blu-ray and its rival high-definition optical disc format, HD DVD.

"Managed copy, as it's defined within the AACS, creates an obligation [for a content provider] to offer the ability for the consumer to create a copy," Nickerson told us. "If you use AACS, you are obligated to give the consumer the ability to make a copy or copies. However, the studio defines the terms under which those copies can be made." Whether an unlimited number of copies can be made, and to what devices or media a copy can be made, are all determined by the content owner or studio, said Nickerson, and represented to the consumer by way of the offer the made to the consumer by the studio, through the AACS network.

This interpretation stands in stark contradiction to the picture of AACS emerging from Microsoft, which is one of the system's principal architects and, along with Warner, is a member of the AACS Licensing Administrator (AACS LA) governing body. As we reported last month, Microsoft and Intel together joined the HD DVD Promotions Group, and released a joint list of grievances they had against the Blu-ray format. One of their grievances concerned Blu-ray's implementation of managed copy, especially since managed copy is one of the key components of AACS. Soon after those grievances were published, an HP official defended Blu-ray, as well as the rights he believed it gave studios to govern the copying of content.

Since that time, meetings between Microsoft and HP officials led to a complete change of stance by HP. In an interview with us published this morning, the same HP official, Josh Peterson, revealed that Microsoft had successfully persuaded HP that the AACS system that Microsoft is co-engineering will guarantee that consumers will be able to copy licensed, legally obtained content, without intervention by the studios. This persuasion led HP last week to request that the Blu-ray Disc Association change its position on whether studios should govern the Clearing House - to use the AACS term for its automated, Internet-based broker of duplicable media - as well as the BDA's choice of interactive layer.

Nickerson acknowledged that he was not familiar with the use of the term "mandatory" with respect to managed copy. That acknowledgement alone is interesting, since HP is stating that the revelations Microsoft made to it about AACS, refer to mandatory managed copy explicitly. However, Nickerson explained that Warner's understanding of AACS is that, when the consumer places a disc in the player, the AACS system is contacted over the Internet. Then the content provider (which, in the current specification, is represented by the Clearing House) provides the consumer with a set of terms for applying the inserted content, the minimum of which is the offer to make a copy. "The content holder has the ability to set additional terms beyond that minimum term. We support that concept," added Nickerson.

Our check of the public v.0.9 specifications for AACS reveals neither a minimum set of terms, as Nickerson referred to it, nor a mandatory managed copy, as Microsoft refers to it. But the zero in the specification number obviously points to a gap between the published specifications and those currently under formal consideration. HP says there are unpublished specifications; if so, we are clearly witnessing two separate interpretations of them. But Microsoft is a principal AACS engineer, not just a member of its steering committee; its assertions are less likely to be interpretations, and more likely decisions. With an apparent discrepancy already existing between the interpretations, if Microsoft were to steer AACS in a direction contrary to the BDA's stated position on AACS, it may very well be in a position to pull the rug out from under Blu-ray, forcing members to either fight to change AACS, or adopt an alternative network-based copy protection and rights management initiative. Without Microsoft's support, such a move on the part of BDA would be risky, time consuming, and perhaps even impossible. If you're in the business of choosing victors in technology battles, you may not want to count all the cards just yet.