Blu-ray's Managed Copy explained, a Movie Jukebox is possible

We'll be honest, while others were predicting how poorly implemented the new Managed Copy system for Blu-ray would be -- mostly because the studios can charge for copies -- we were dreaming of new ways we'd like to enjoy our favorite movies. With DVD's CSS, everything was very restricted; simple tasks like transferring a movie to your PMP or storing 'em all on a Media Center PC was way, way more complicated than it should be -- not to mention a violation of the DMCA. Obviously we wanted to know more, so we went straight to the source and asked the AACS-LA exactly how it'll work, as well as how it'll handle things like rent, rip and return. Surprisingly, we were actually happy after the call and contrary to what you might believe, Managed Copy was actually designed with the consumer in mind.

A Movie Jukebox!
We believe the coolest possibility that Managed Copy could enable is a Blu-ray Jukebox, so you can imagine how pleased we were to hear Michael Ayers, the chair of the AACS Business Group, mention it specifically when we asked him how he envisioned Managed Copy would be used. He tells us that not only is it possible, but the technology was designed with that use in mind. Of course storing full Blu-ray Discs on a Media Center would take up a lot of space, but luckily it's not an all or nothing proposition. So in other words while studios have no choice but to offer a full copy of the disc, the possible combinations are pretty limitless, but are unfortunately dictated by the studio. The studio can "tailor" offers, so for example, you could copy just the main movie and one audio track in full quality -- or in lower quality to save space. Some flexibility is required based on the destination format that media will take, but for more details you'll want to check out the C1 table in the compliance rules (PDF) for all the nitty gritty details.

Rent, Rip and Return?
We've heard the studios are worried about people renting a disc, ripping it and then returning it, so we figured the AACS had to have an answer for these concerns. Interestingly, while it is possible for the studios to disable Managed Copy on discs specifically intended for the rental market, it might actually be in the studio's best interest not to. The way we see it is that if a copy costs enough, the studios would be more than happy to sell you one while leaving the burden and overhead involved in a physical disc inventory to the likes of Netflix. This would obviously be an great way for consumers to try before they buy, while at the same time getting the highest quality movie experience around. And to top it all, they could get all of this without the need to store a ton of shinny discs.

Managing the copies.
Now the studios have the option to serialize the discs and thus limit you to the single mandatory copy, but we don't see why they'd do this either. Effectively this would be like limiting the number of copies someone can buy. We could totally see how this would be useful if the first copy was offered at a lower rate though. It is even possible to make copies of copies, but this really depends on the rules of the output technology. So if a full disc copy was made, AACS would not permit a copy of the copy, but if Microsoft DRM is used, then the restrictions of that technology come into play (for example).

Another concern we had was the internet connection requirement. The good news is that a connection is only required to make a copy and after that it depends on the output DRM technology used. In fact if the disc has a CCI flag like Copy Freely, no network connection is needed. So when making a full copy of a disc, just like the original, you don't need to be connected to play it back. This may or may not be the case with Microsoft DRM or others depending on how it is implemented, but it is up to the approved technology to decide and not the studios -- although we're sure they have a hand in approving output DRM technologies at some level.

Who can play
The most notable missing output DRM technology at the time the AACS license was finalized is Apple. Michael tells us that adding additional output DRM technologies is a very open process and that 3rd parties can even deal directly with the studios to offer special services -- he referred to this as a permissive list vs a required list. So in other words, there is nothing preventing Apple from getting all board before this goes live in 2010.

How to pay
At this point we don't expect many, if any, of these copies to be free. We're not exactly sure how this will work, but envision it'll be something like most online media stores. You'll go to a web site and enter your credit card information, then when you're ready to pay for a copy, you'll simply put in your user name and password and it will use the card on file. Hopefully they'll find an easier way to this than to try and enter a user name and password with a remote, just like many of the BD Live accounts are configured, but we'll have to wait and see. For the studios who don't want to procure their own online transaction server, the AACS-LA is in the process of ensuring a default server (safety net server) is available.

This is really cool, but when?
If you haven't noticed so far, we're really excited about this. How could we not be after living under the heavy handed reign of CSS for so many years. We still can't believe we're actually going to have more ways to enjoy our favorite movies. We have to say we would've never imagined that Hollywood would have the vision required to develop AACS with all of this in mind. It is just crazy that AACS includes this and it isn't some sort of add-on hack.

As to when discs might start supporting this -- the agreement went live about a week ago and as soon as a studios sign it, it can start making discs that will support Managed Copy even though the hardware isn't out yet. When the mandate goes into effect early next year every disc will support Managed Copy, but until then there will be a logo on the box so that you can tell which discs support it and which don't.

The bottom line
Managed Copy has tons of potential, but even though it is mandatory it is up to the studios to make it work. Our biggest concern is what it might cost. We kind of wish the AACS would've put in a maximum price per copy, but recognize that in the end, the market will set the cost. If it's convenient and inexpensive enough, we have little doubt that most will prefer to go legit. On the other hand if it is buggy and over-priced, we won't blame most for getting their copies elsewhere.