If anyone thought the ideas around the Broadcast Flag have finally died off, they’d be dead wrong. Reports are coming in that the FCC has granted Selectable Output Control (SOC) meaning that they, not you, can choose what can be recorded on your own TV.
If you remember the Broadcast Flag, you’ll probably know it had quite a history over the years. In 2005 in the court of Appeals, the American Library Association battled the FCC over the broadcast flag. The FCC at the time tried to put in a broadcast flag which would allow studios to pick and choose what TV shows can be recorded. The court held (PDF) “that the rules exceeded the Commission’s authority”
That wasn’t going to stop rights holders in their war against its own customers from the button.
In 2006, Sen. Ted Stevens attempted to reintroduce the broadcast flag. Sen. John E. Sununu later tried to strike this amendment, but it failed. It seemed to be a major loss for consumers, but when the House adjourned, the bill was never passed. A reprieve to say the least.
Now, it almost seems like consumers have experienced a sudden and quiet loss. The FCC recently had this ruling (PDF) with regards to SOC:
In this order, we act on a request for a waiver of Section 76.1903 of the Commission’s rules to allow multichannel video programming distributors (“MVPDs”) to disable certain audiovisual outputs on set-top boxes to assure that copy protection is active for certain high-value content, specifically early-release films. We deny the waiver request as filed, but, in order to encourage Motion Picture Association of America (“MPAA”) member companies, independent filmmakers, and their MVPD partners to offer their films for home viewing during early release windows, we grant a limited waiver of the prohibition on disabling audio-visual outputs.
“[T]he Commission recognized that SOC might have future utility in facilitating new video service [...] When the Commission adopted the prohibition on SOC, it specifically contemplated waivers for high value content to facilitate new business models. MPAA member companies have proposed a new business model – films available to consumers for in-home viewing earlier in the release process business models”
The MPAA, without a doubt, is salivating over the victory. This is what they said in a press release:
“This action is an important victory for consumers who will now have far greater access to see recent high definition movies in their homes. And it is a major step forward in the development of new business models by the motion picture industry to respond to growing consumer demand,” said Bob Pisano, President and Interim CEO of the MPAA. “We deeply appreciate the recognition by the FCC that recently released movies need special protection against content theft when they are distributed to home televisions.”
Only the MPAA could view this as a victory for consumers. It’s nothing more than a victory for their bottom line as they not only wage a war on the future, but the present as well. It’s highly doubtful consumers from across the country are leaping to their feet in victory that their media recorder has now been legally broken.
Michael Weinberg of Public Knowledge said, “The MPAA essentially put forward two arguments for SOC: preventing piracy and giving people trapped at home (specifically citing the physically challenged, elderly, and/or parents of children unable to find or afford babysitters) easier access to movies. Both of these arguments are bunkum.”
Weinberg added, “which should be looking out for the public interest, accepts “it is frustrating when somewhere like the Media Bureau of the FCC, which should be looking out for the public interest, accepts “because we want it, and we are studios” as a compelling reason to screw millions of Americans.”
If this proves anything else, it’s that regulators have been bought and sold by the very industry’s they are suppose to regulate. If you didn’t believe it before, this case should add to a mountain of evidence that proves it.
So what will a world of TV DRM look like? You don’t have to look far to find comparisons. Just look at the CD vs. the DVD. The CD doesn’t have much in the way of limitations and it can be used anywhere in the world. The DVD has DRM encoded on to each disc and now you suddenly can’t skip ads encoded in to the movie. You also have to worry about region codes, so it really depends on what place in the world you can watch specific movies. On the CD, you can copy the contents and make back-ups. On the DVD, you can’t legally make a back-up copy as long as the local laws prohibit anti-circumvention. Don’t worry, in countries that don’t have such laws, businesses are prospering as a result of other countries prohibiting the manufacturing and distribution of anti-circumvention technology. Good thing the US economy doesn’t need anything helping it at this time.
The scarier part is not that corporate America owns the US, but that this will now suddenly give them more confidence to take this to the international stage and force other countries to fall in line. We all know that this won’t stop innovation as innovation will now be directed toward breaking the Berlin Wall of DRM rather than going toward making more uses of technology.
If recording TV shows becomes a crime in the US, we may see headlines of peoples homes being raided for containing illegal PVRs and recording devices. The USA: land of the free unless it stands in the way of profit for incumbent industries.