November 7, 2007

MLB throws a DRM sinker to fans

Filed under: law — wseltzer @ 5:46 pm

Via BoingBoing, comes the account of a sports writer and avid fan who spent $280 to purchase video footage of Major League Baseball games, only to lose the ability to watch his purchases when MLB switched DRM providers.

As Allan Wood, who wrote a book on the 1918 Red Sox blogs tells it:

Since MLB started this download service, I have bought and downloaded 71 games — many of them from the Red Sox’s August-September 2004 hot streak — which works out to a total cost of $280.45 (plus the price of the blank discs). Thanks to MLB, I now have nearly six dozen coasters.

Calling MLB to inquire, he was told:

“MLB no longer supports the DDS system” that it once used and so any CDs with downloaded games on them “are no good. They will not work with the current system.”

Thus rather than supporting the fans who paid money to watch games, MLB is turning them away — and turning them off from purchasing future content. What you rip from your DVR is more useful, long-term, than what you can buy. And all DRM has this bug built-in — it’s protecting content against its end-users, and can as easily break with less functionality than the users paid for if its supporting infrastructure is pulled.

In the comments, thread, a poster points to the Fairuse4WM utility in the Doom9 forums, suggesting that purchasers can extract the video. Of course that seems perfectly reasonable, as they paid for the content and were promised it would remain accessible, but the good old DMCA makes it legally questionable — circumvention of a “technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected [by copyright]” is forbidden by sec. 1201(a)(1). Don’t purchasers have “authorization”? That’s what DVD owners argue, unsuccessfully so far.

What about exemptions? The Copyright Office, in its 2006 rulemaking created an exemption from circumvention liability for those who circumvent “obsolete” technological protections — seemingly the case here — but it applies only to computer programs and video games. While telecast baseball might be a “video game,” it’d take some creative lawyering to squeeze into the exception for archival use and preservation.

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