The FCC won't let me be
November 5, 2003 6:38 AM   Subscribe

You thought web standards were bad, how about PC, DVD and Recorder standards too? Well, the FCC has officially mandated that vendors making devices such as dvd players, recorders, pc's, must include (by July 1, 2005) copy-protection mechanisms which will prevent sharing of most digitally broadcast content. Broadcasters will have the option of adding a 'flag' to data streams which will prevent users from sharing digital content ala mp3's. Yes, there will be ways around this;yes, old systems will still work (maybe), but in the end, the FCC has just established a new technological standard which will end up in all of our new computers, dvd players, tivos, post 2005. Want to do something about it? Sorry. Too late.
posted by jeremias (29 comments total)
Yea, now real pirates will have to make one more small step to SELL OTHER PEOPLE's stuff, and the rest of us lose the ability to time-shift content.

Does anyone think this will 'work'?

This and the other digital mandate are going to piss off people pretty bad if the economy don't get a whole lot better. "Yes, that's right, you get to buy a more expensive TV that does less than your old one. And don't forget, you are happy about this!!"

Oh, and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. The forces that be have been working towards this one for a long, long time.

The idea that free-over-the-air TV would stop is so frickin' ridiculous. If they don't like the profit margins on their publicly subsidized industry, get the f-ck out and let somebody else do the job.
posted by wah at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2003

Good thing is, I doubt this "feature" will make its way out of the US of A.
*pats his All-Region DVD-player*
posted by signal at 6:58 AM on November 5, 2003

Doesn't this government want to at least maintain the illusion that they aren't ruled by business interests these days? I mean, there was a time where they at least pretended to be beholden to citizens.
posted by aubin at 7:01 AM on November 5, 2003

As if HDTVs weren't selling slowly enough already.

So you're telling me that if I buy a HDTV, not only do I have to spend several times what I'd spend on an analog TV, but I'm not going to have the same types of features that I currently have (time shifting, recording shows, etc.)? Brilliant.
posted by bshort at 7:03 AM on November 5, 2003

Oh, come off it. Look at the widespread popularity and end-user adoption of all the other technologies that incorporated similar use-restriction mechanisms: consumer DAT, Minidisc, DIVX movies... Er... um... boy, that FCC sure did its homework on this one!
posted by majick at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2003

2005? Given the evolution rate of digital capture and processing technology as well as the speed at which we're adopting portable storage (23gb blue light DVD recorders are already at retail) I suspect that by the time this becomes effective, it will largely be irrelevant.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:50 AM on November 5, 2003

A creepy part of the NY Times story is this final last line, discussing the response fo the Democratic FCC commissioners.... "They also warned that the rules could allow technology to track the viewing habits of consumers" Really? That seems to me to be a pretty big privacy concern to add to all the other annoying parts of this legislation.
posted by jessamyn at 7:51 AM on November 5, 2003

I hope this leads to consumer revolt or a grey market with underground technology, but I doubt it. It will be like boiling a frog. You put the frog in, and you slowly turn up the heat. By the time consumers lose the rights they currently enjoy, they won't even notice.

I hate the fact that Universal DVDs make me sit through their stupid ads every time I want to watch a movie. As soon as I can put together enough storage to crack all 200+ of my DVDs and have them on a media server I will, but I don't now (nor do I stop buying the DVDs), and I'm sure a lot more aware/advanced about this stuff than my parents are.

By the time Mom and Dad can't fast forward past the ads or tape their favorite show every week without paying some special storage fee, they won't even remember there was once a time when they could.
posted by willnot at 8:05 AM on November 5, 2003

I don't see anything in this article that indicates the flag would prevent recording and time-shifting. Space-shifting, sure. But I don't basic Tivo functionality requires sending recorded shows over the Internet. (Now, in-home networks is an interesting question.)

Not that I like this, just seems like we should flame in the right direction.
posted by alms at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2003

It's almost unfair to quote Jack Valenti, since his bias is so obvious it's basically tattoed on his forehead but his quote really pissed me off

In a statement, MPAA president Jack Valenti called the FCC decision "a big victory for consumers and the preservation of high value over-the-air free broadcasting."
"All the way around, the consumer wins, and free TV stays alive," Valenti said.

Gee, thanks, Mr. Valenti for telling me I have "won" and for assuming that over-the-air free broadcasting has high value. I'd rather pay for the shit I want to watch then have to deal with the ramifications of new copy-protection chips that will be sitting in my next computer. Guess I'll be holding on to my new G5 for quite some time.
posted by jeremias at 8:14 AM on November 5, 2003

I credit the MPAA for lobbying the FCC so effectively, but as others have written, the approach will only limit legitimate consumer choice. Copy-protected CDs are, on aggregate, damaging the market for music on CDs. I hear more than a few stories from non-nerd CD consumers who can't play their new CD in their car because it is copy protected. Does this in any way encourage them to buy more CDs?

As long as one can pull a high-quality analogue signal out of player, content can and will be pirated, period. I know that over the past few years there has been talk about digital watermarks and locked-down recorders and PCs, but as DVD hackers know, now of that stuff will work in the long run.

I also think the potential problem is overblown. My sense is that video piracy over the Internet is certainly sophisticated but not nearly as wide-spread as music sharing. Copying a DVD is now a fairly routine exercise for the technically adept, but isn't of all that much interest to the average consumer. I know some people who are a bit obsessive about downloading movies they never watch, just to have a copy, but I identify this sort of behaviour with the early adaptor who has more interest in empowering himself then he does actually consuming the content.

In reality, video piracy is not nearly as attractive as music piracy, with the biggest issues being long download times and a degraded experience versus a DVD. In the current broadband environment movie piracy is as much of a problem as it is going to be.

The only long-term solution is to mandate ISPs to charge a flat fee to consumers for accessing files through P2P applications, and then distribute these fees to content creators, making file sharing a legitimate and effective means of distributing all sorts of media. Of course, the entertainment industry doesn't want this because that will mean they lose pricing control, but I have little sympathy for them.
posted by tranquileye at 8:19 AM on November 5, 2003

I don't see anything in this article that indicates the flag would prevent recording and time-shifting.

See, here's part of the issue. Already, because of this decision we have to start thinking, "gee, what defines 'sharing?'" When they lay down the rules we are obligated to prove we are not breaking them, I don't even want to think about the havoc that version 1.0 of these chips will unleash. So will the dvd's that I make on my Superdrive play on all the "new" dvd players?Maybe, maybe not. As if there weren't enough compatibility issues already.
posted by jeremias at 8:20 AM on November 5, 2003

How can the hackers possibly circumvent a flag? I envision it will be about as hard as making a floppy write protected.
posted by smackfu at 8:37 AM on November 5, 2003

> Guess I'll be holding on to my new G5 for quite some time.

Just be careful and use a surge protector and these thingies are good for quite a while. My Apple ][ still boots fine, as does my 286 and 486. Only reason the 386 doesn't is I cannibalized the case and power supply to build the 486. Also have a couple of homebuilt white-box Pentia and a nice new Dell 2400; On past performance I expect these to be running twenty years from now (though I possibly will not be.)
posted by jfuller at 8:46 AM on November 5, 2003

Hmm... consumers may be more incensed than you think. They probably don't care now because it doesn't affect them presently (I don't have a HDTV, I don't want a HDTV). Two people I know purchased DVD players and promptly returned them. No prompting by me (I own a DVD player and like it better than a VCR) but the reasoning was interesting. Friend #1 disliked having his fast forward disabled during the commercials. Friend #2 had an odd setup. She had a small television which didn't have any coax input or RCA jacks. So she tried to hook up her DVD through the VCR into the antenna terminals. Well, the macrovision kicked in and the DVD we rented had that annoying periodic colour/intensity shift.

So two different pieces of anti-consumer software resulted in two cases of a returned DVD player. I don't know how common this is. My friends are in two distinct camps. Either they have to own every piece of technology ever produced or they don't give a damn. Most of the latter don't own a DVD player because it's not at all important to them.

I'm going to take a pass on HDTV unless they remove the restriction. It's not even that I record a lot of television (I have a Tivo, the only thing on it is Children of Dune which I still haven't seen). I just don't like being pushed around. I also bought a guitar and have been learning to play it. I was pretty suprised when I realized that I hadn't watched television in a month, so if analog signals disappear I don't think I'd be terribly bothered.
posted by substrate at 9:32 AM on November 5, 2003

I mostly agree with tranquileye. I still don't, however, really understand the allure of owning movies anyway. If I can rent a DVD for $5, vs. buying it for $20, then I can rent it up to four times before I get to the point where ownership hits a payoff. That, personally, is about two more than I watch most movies, even the ones I really like.
posted by Hackworth at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2003

jeremias is a prime example as to why Network TV is dying a slow death.

Yes, there are many other factors, such as DVDs, Gaming, longer commute times, Internet, and shows on Cable that are 100x better then the majority of the tripe that network TV puts out.

The FCC and Jack Valenti actually beleive that the American public is dumb enough to beleive what they are saying. When are these people going to realize that the American public isn't as stupid as they think we are... wait... maybe we are that stupid...
posted by da5id at 9:39 AM on November 5, 2003

Although, I must admit, since I don't watch normal TV at all, I do resort to downloading any tv shows I really want to see, but then I really only watch an episode once or twice before I delete it. I like this best becasue it gets rid of commercials and means that I don't spend time just flipping channels, I actually have to choose what I want to watch.

If companies still wanted to market things to viewers who opertate this way, as well as with a Tivo-like device, then show sponsorship or product placement would still get to me. Or, even better, if there were some sort of service that would allow me to download or stream the shows for a fee, I would probably consider that instead. I'd much rather pay a reasonable fee than have to be subjected to advertising.

But, if there were broadcast flags that put and end to episodes being avaliable online and such, I probably wouldn't watch them at all.
posted by Hackworth at 9:47 AM on November 5, 2003

The baby boomers don't have that much time left.
posted by Yossarian at 10:20 AM on November 5, 2003

I hope this leads to consumer revolt or a grey market with underground technology, but I doubt it. It will be like boiling a frog. You put the frog in, and you slowly turn up the heat. By the time consumers lose the rights they currently enjoy, they won't even notice.

A frog is smart enough to jump out.

I think that we're all smarter than frogs but the problem is neither intelligence nor the rate at which the temperature increases. The problem lies in having a way out.
posted by cup at 10:31 AM on November 5, 2003

cup, the way out is to say no thanks to that latest matrix flick. stay the fuck out of the theater. stop renting the friggin DVD's. threads like this, with all the moaning and gnashing of teeth become an embarrassing joke just as soon as some mook dazzled by hollywood's latest shiny trinket posts a link about [insert neo, hulk, frodo, whatever].
posted by quonsar at 10:39 AM on November 5, 2003

"In the current broadband environment movie piracy is as much of a problem as it is going to be."

To be fair, that's still somewhat substantial. That it takes 2 or 3 hours to get the torrent [or DCC or Overnet swarm or what have you] and 40 or 50c worth of disk space to leave it sitting around until you want to play it doesn't seem to be stopping the throng of end users.

That said, it still oughtn't be eating into anyone's revenue like actual piracy, "counterfeit copies," is. Even a passable-quality DVD rip -- which is rare, as most movies available online are covertly filmed handcam crap that has been re-re-reencoded so much as to be unrecognizable, or made from blurry VHS tape -- isn't something you gather the whole family around with bowls of popcorn.

More on topic, though, broadcast television isn't likely to achieve much popularity with the casual copying community. I can barely be bothered to turn on the television to watch the giant animated logo-encrusted broadcasts out there today, I can't see I'm going to go to the effort of downloading to get the same thing except smaller, in mono, probably in some obscure format like ASF or MOV, and -- like most of the movies and music you can download -- encoded by morons.
posted by majick at 10:41 AM on November 5, 2003

most movies available online are covertly filmed handcam crap that has been re-re-reencoded so much as to be unrecognizable, or made from blurry VHS tape

I don't know where you're getting your movies. The films I download are almost exclusively high-quality DVD rips with 5.1 audio. The only movies I download regularly that are less-than-perfect quality are prerelease films, and these generally have the video/audio quality of a well-loved VHS tape.
posted by Jairus at 11:18 AM on November 5, 2003

Copying a DVD is now a fairly routine exercise for the technically adept, but isn't of all that much interest to the average consumer.

This will remain true only until recordable DVD media is as cheap and widespread as CDR's (not much longer now), there will still be people ripping and DivXing DVD"s. It's a fairly labor-intensive task if you want it to look decent and still fit on a CD (a lot of tweaking and a few encoding passes still takes up a couple hours on the fastest system), but you only have to do it once. :)

The films I download are almost exclusively high-quality DVD rips with 5.1 audio.

Completely agreed with this statement. With advances in codec technology, you can put full AC-3 streams and encode different subtitles in your AVI's. For 2-CD rips (a lot more common now) the quality is indestinguishable from the DVD.

As for the copy-bit protection, I'm not worried. The reason? Two words: free market. While the U.S. may legislate cripple-ware to manufacturers, you can be damned sure the Chinese and Taiwanese will be releasing unprotected hardware to fill the needs of not only their own grey markets, but the growing black market that will develop in this country. Manufacturers will scream bloody murder if they see they're losing profits to small-change Chinese producers. Look what happened with APEX, for example. APEX went from homely to humongeous due to a single product: the 600 series DVD player. It was affordable, let you play CDR's and MP3 CD's before everyone else jumped on that bandwagon, and allowed you to bypass region codes, all without Macrovision. They saw a need and filled it. Now everyone's DVD player plays CDR's and MP3's (and even though region encoding still remains, for some strange reason the ROM's are easily hacked or have "hidden" feature menus that are easily accessible).

In short, don't sweat it, people.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:13 PM on November 5, 2003

don't sweat it, people

You could have made the same argument when the DMCA was passed.

The purpose of the broadcast flag is not to stop determined people from copying. You're right that it won't be able to stop that.

Instead, it's designed to make copying much more difficult for ordinary people, in order to prevent them from accessing distribution methods not controlled by the MPAA and the television broadcasters. And it's designed to establish the brand new legal precedent that the government can regulate all electronic devices, including all PCs and software, in order to give Hollywood oversight over what is legal to sell.

If we've learned anything from the experience with music and the DMCA, it's that the law will eventually be abused against anything that threatens current monopolies on content and distribution. Do you think they will shy away from issuing subpeonas to identify Internet users and then suing people who use non-government-approved devices and software?

As for foreign manufacturers, Europe is already adopting draconian DMCA-like laws in response to intense pressure from the US government.

Have you given more money to the EFF than to the MPAA this year?
posted by fuzz at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2003

everybody needs to read fuzz's comments. especially those participating in the "oh my gaawd, matrix revolutions sucked and i feel so violated, poor me" thread.
posted by quonsar at 5:34 PM on November 5, 2003

Web standards are bad?
posted by jplummer at 8:04 PM on November 5, 2003

The proper reaction is to not consume ANY of the new HDTV products. If you don't like the terms, don't use the product. Period.

The trick is to let the people who spend money on the ads that:

You didn't hear about their product(s) on HDTV.
And for the more radical - you refuse to buy product X because they advertise (but somehow you need to know they had an Ad or 2)

A nice database and internet presence people could use and site so that the HDTV people (and FCC) can see the impact (or lack thereof thus justifying the position of how it effects no one)
posted by rough ashlar at 4:35 PM on November 6, 2003

An Open Letter to Jack Valenti
posted by homunculus at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2003

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