Microsoft defends your right to copy


— 1:30 AM on October 18, 2005

Ars Technica has linked up an interview Bill Gates gave to the Daily Princetonian. Of particular interest is Gates' rationalization for Microsoft's decision to support HD-DVD over the competing Blu-ray standard:

Well, the key issue here is that the protection scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there's not much visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers and it won't work well on PCs. You won't be able to play movies and do software in a flexible way.

It's not the physical format that we have the issue with, it's that the protection scheme on Blu is very anti-consumer. If [the Blu-ray group] would fix that one thing, you know, that'd be fine.

Ars has done an in-depth analysis of Microsoft's decision to back HD-DVD, and examined the copy-protection mechanisms both standards have in place. The bottom line (and a fact that's gotten surprisingly little press) is that the HD-DVD standard explicitly allows and protects limited copying, otherwise known as Managed Copy, while Blu-ray does not. Supporting the Managed Copy feature is a mandatory part of the HD-DVD spec; all HD-DVDs must allow at least one copy to be made, though studios will have the option to charge for it. It's possible that Blu-ray could include a similar feature, since the specification isn't complete, but none has been added to date.

Gates' bluntness and identification of this feature as the overriding reason why Microsoft backs HD-DVD not only highlights the tremendous war going on between content creation and technological heavyweights, but also may signal Microsoft's desire to appear more consumer-friendly than it has in the past. By explicitly backing HD-DVD and its friendlier stance toward fair use, Microsoft may be hoping to assuage user concerns over the level of hardware-driven copy protection Vista will enable, while simultaneously including the stronger protection measures demanded by the movie and music industries.

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