Hollywood sold the FCC on the broadcast flag rule with claims that it would only “limit the redistribution of digital broadcast television content, but not restrict consumers from copying programming for their personal use.” (FCC Report and Order at 3, citing MPAA Comments at 6-8). Now that the FCC has adopted the flag rule, though, the MPAA is changing face. No longer content to prevent “mass indiscriminate redistribution,” Hollywood and its allies want to throw the full force of technology mandates behind all their control dreams.
TiVo finds itself caught squarely in the middle, the Washington Post reports. TiVo developed its first generations of pause-live-TV-and-skip-the-ads products outside Hollywood’s grasp, because time-shifting broadcast signal (NTSC) was a recognized fair use. When flag-encumbered (ATSC) HDTV appeared,
TiVo couldn’t just build, it had to petition for certification as a “covered demodulator product” and “authorized recording method.” TiVo’s petition describes a byzantine system of encryption and dongles to ensure that television won’t escape an authorized secure viewing circle, but the MPAA still wants more: “Will subscribers be allowed to use post office boxes to register a Secure Viewing Group?” it asks in opposition. Might a sports fan share a show with a friend across the country, rather than a daughter in the next room? (docket).
Let’s hope this experience serves as a warning to tech companies: Don’t be lulled by the copyright industries’ claims that “it won’t hurt much.” Ceding to technology mandates gives the entertainment companies a screw they’ll just keep tightening.