"GNU/Linux is ready for DVD playback - MPAA, are you [too]?"
What if there were a functional, free video player for unix-like systems, would the MPAA think about allowing it to play back DVDs ? The xine player, for example can currently play back MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 streams with synchronized audio/video, fullscreen playback is possible when the Xv extension is available. Technically it would be easy to build the necessary features for DVD playback into xine, but so far the MPAA's legal actions have kept the xine project from developing anything to that end.
Now the question is: what can we (the free software community), what can the movie industry do to make free DVD playback possible ?----- [read more] -----
Currently, xine can play back MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 streams with synchronized audio and video. These formats can be found on DVDs or VCDs, for example. xine supports fullscreen playback using the Xv extension. Besides that, there's experimental support for AVI files using win32 codecs (that's basically the same trick that libavi and xmps introduced).
For flexibility, xine uses an input plugin mechanism for various types of input media such as simple files, VCDs or (unlocked/unencrypted) DVDs. It would technically be no problem to replace the DVD plugin by a css-enabled one (and various such plugins are floating around on the net).
xine is still work-in-progress - it already does a lot of things nicely on a lot of configurations, but there is of course still much work left to do - for example fullscreen support on systems that don't have the Xv extension. Support for more MPEG features (for example subtitles) is also being worked on.
Many of you may have heard about the linuxvideo project and OMS. A lot of ideas (and of course lots of code ;)) in xine come from the OMS project - if not for OMS, xine could never be where it is now. Let's have a quick look at how xine compares to OMS:
While OMS tries to implement a very big, general approach to video playback (the full featured project supports all kinds of hardware decoder cards including DVB [digital television]) through a very dynamic extensible architecture, xine's main goal is simplicity. xine is easy to build and install because of its mostly statically linked architecture. The straightforward design made it possible to quickly develop advanced features such as tight synchronization of audio and video as well as extensive buffering for speed. Besides that, xine's code has proven to be rather portable: xine works nicely on FreeBSD (an official port exists), various non-intel platforms have been reported to work to some degree as well.
and: ...how customers aren't allowed to view their own DVDs
The MPAA tries to enforce restrictions on the use of the content of DVDs. They are doing so for perfectly understandable reasons: to prevent people from making lossless, digital copies of copyrighted material, to prevent share or sale of such material on a large scale. Therefore the content of most DVDs is encrypted.
However, this scheme also has serious side-effects: one cannot watch such DVDs without decrypting their content. But the MPAA is restricting decryption to certain equipment and software they can control by their licensing regulations. Free, and therefore open source software by definition cannot meet their restrictions and thus their regulations prevent the developement of free DVD players.
Now while of course the hope to prevent illegal copies is a valid motive, the situation, seen from our (the DVD customer's) perspective is quite unfair: the MPAA is preventing us from watching the DVDs that we paid for by our chosen means: using free software.
So far, the xine project team's position on css has been restrictive:
nothing is being developed to that end. xine doesn't contain any css-specific
code (including any code that dynamically links to libcss at runtime - could
such technical tricks really help on the legal situation ?).
This restrictiveness is the logical consequence of legal actions the MPAA
has taken in the past (anything but avoiding css could possibly endanger the
whole project). At the same time this is not to be understood as a sign of
sympathy with the MPAA's position.
The xine project - and in extension the whole free software community - is asking the MPAA to rethink their position on this matter.
or: ...we don't want to break copyright law, we want to watch our movies - dammit!
Originally, copyright law was not meant to keep people from viewing some content they bought a license for. True, copyright law is meant to protect the rights of the copyright owner - but private use of DVDs should not need to be restricted in any way.
There are already enough ways to break copyright law in connection with DVDs (simply copying the whole DVD as it is - including the encryption - on an industrial scale, for example. Or using widely available, illegal, software for the Windows platform) - we aren't asking to legalize any of these. What we are asking for is that the MPAA recognizes that it is very bad manners to not let customers choose their preferred way of privately viewing content that they paid for. We hope to get permission to include decryption software into xine.
If you are a DVD customer: write to the people at the MPAA, tell them about our position. Maybe it would make sense to organize some sort of petition for free DVD playing ?