Monday, January 30, 2012

Amazon's New DRM-Enabled Flash Player

On or about January 15 of this year, apparently re-encoded much of their instant video content so that a new DRM-enabled flash player is required to view it. When Amazon customers select one of the newly encoded video selections via the Amazon Instant Video browser interface, the message "Updating video..." appears with a yellow status bar.

The update then fails for any Linux user running a 64-bit system for which the 64-bit version of the Adobe flash player had been installed. On Linux Mint and Ubuntu systems, this 64-bit version of the flash player is installed by

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer

After about a week and a half of receiving apologies, but no solution from Amazon, one Linux user presented a partial work-around in this Amazon discussion forum:

Here's the partial work-around (thanks, Andy)

Doug, it runs fine on my Mint 12 after HAL is installed. My OpenSuSe box never had the problem, and I just simply can't do anything on my BSD box (understandably). My guess is that Amazon changed the streaming player to probe something in your hardware like MAC address for DRM, but Flash Access uses HAL to accomplish this task although HAL has been obsolete for Debian-derived distros for some time now.

[...] You can follow the steps below but since I don't know how your system is configured, please perform them at your own risk.

1. Remove/rename .adobe and .macromedia from your home directory
mv .adobe adobe.old
mv .macromedia macromedia.old

2. Remove Flash
sudo apt-get --purge remove adobe-flashplugin

3. Install Flash
sudo apt-get install adobe-flashplugin

4. Verify you have the latest Flash by going to:

5. Test with your Firefox or Chrome (not Epiphany)

Please make sure your hald is running.

The problem with this work-around is that it removes the 64-bit version of the Adobe flash plugin, and installs the 32-bit version which performs horribly on 64-bit Mint/Ubuntu installations, or at least on those installations that have an Nvidia graphics chipset. The 32-bit version of the player is not accelerated, and the video is quality is unacceptable, with very jerky/stop-action rendering.

Lot's of people are complaining that they cannot play new video content for which they have purchased, and alll because Amazon decided to deploy DRM enabled content without properly first testing on Linux.

BTW, I just got off the phone with Amazon instant video support people, and they basically told me "You're on your own, check the discussion forums for how to get the new DRM-enabled player working.  We can’t help you."  It appears that Amazon, which had such a huge win over Netflix by making their flash content available in an OS-agnostic fashion has decided to backtrack.  As one user on an Amazon discussion forum states:

“Wow...epic fail on Amazon's part. I shouldn't have to do this sort of work to get a service I'm paying for to work. People should be fired for this. And not just on the technical side -- there's been no communication from Amazon about the issue. Luckily, I'm in my trial month, and now I'm going to cancel my Prime membership. Oh, well, I guess it's back to piratebay for me....”

I guess I agree: a pretty big misstep was made here.  Up until now I had been fairly impressed by Amazon’s tech support service, but somebody definitely dropped the ball on this one.



  1. I have paid more money for music in the past four months than I have in the past four years since I found that Amazon sells DRM free music. Before that, I had done a variety of ill-advised things to get the music for free off youtube. I've nearly "paid back" all the artists by legitimately buying back their music and deleting my pirate copy.

    I was sniffing around Amazon's Instant Video service to see if they offered a similar deal- and this proves they don't. Which is unfortunate, because people like me don't want to be pirates, they're just forced to be.

  2. DRMs are just an incentive to piracy ...