September 15, 2005
The meaning of TiVo's DRM bug

Cory picked up on PVRblog's coverage of what was eventually determined to be a bug: Users found their TiVos unexpectedly expiring recorded shows.

It might well have been a bug in this instance, but bugs like that don't just come from nowhere, with fully formed error messages alerting viewers that "Due to policy set by the copyright holder, 'Keep until I delete' is not permitted." Maybe it wasn't meant to show up here and now, on broadcast TV, but someplace in TiVo's corporate innards, someone decided that unrequested expiration was a feature.

Nothing in copyright law mandates this "feature." To the contrary, once you have a lawful copy of a copyrighted work, the first sale doctrine says you have the choice whether to save, lend, or discard it, while Betamax says timeshifting creates a lawful copy. If not copyright law, then copyright-holder muscle probably sits behind TiVo's design. Copyright holders work with Macrovision to implement extra-copyright controls, then jointly lean on TiVo to respond to them. Together, they restrict user rights beyond copyright.

The bug also illustrates the fallibility of proprietary technologies (particularly those with automatic update). "Update" doesn't always mean "improve" -- an update can take away functions you've come to enjoy, just because someone else objects. This misfeature of any DRM that implements "revocability" gives "planned obsolescence" a whole new meaning.

Like Cory, I've gone the MythTV route instead. With hundreds of people hacking on its open-source code, MythTV updates really are improvements. Its features are truly features, like commercial skip, time-stretch, transcoding and transfer to other media, plus an open-format music server on the side, giving full access to all the rights copyright reserves to the public. Sorry TiVo, you've been out-evolved.

Posted by Wendy at September 15, 2005 10:02 AM | TrackBack

I am curious about the legality of recording shows from my Tivo to my DVD-R, can I DVD shows I've recorded (for my own personal use)? can I record onto DVD movies I've rented via pay-per-view (for my own personal use)?
I have been reading copyright law etc and cannot find where it is against the law.

Posted by: KJ on September 21, 2005 10:59 AM

KJ: Anything that has been broadcast to your house is fair game to save a copy of for personal use; the only time you get into questionable legal territory is when you share it with others. (AIUI, your laws may vary, IANAL, etc.)

Posted by: Anonymous on September 23, 2005 10:23 AM

Thanks!! I really appreciate the info.

Posted by: KJ on September 23, 2005 09:08 PM
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