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[Discuss-gnuradio] [Dewayne-Net] TiVo vs. the Broadcast Flag Wavers

From: Eric Blossom
Subject: [Discuss-gnuradio] [Dewayne-Net] TiVo vs. the Broadcast Flag Wavers
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 2004 12:49:50 -0700
User-agent: Mutt/1.4.1i

From: Dewayne Hendricks <address@hidden>
Date: August 2, 2004 8:09:09 AM EDT
To: Dewayne-Net Technology List <address@hidden>
Subject: [Dewayne-Net] TiVo vs. the Broadcast Flag Wavers
Reply-To: address@hidden

TiVo vs. the Broadcast Flag Wavers

By Rob Pegoraro
The Washington Post
Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page F06

TiVo, the company that makes the digital-video-recorder boxes that  inspire
such strange idolatry among their users, is in a weird spot.  It's asking
the Federal Communications Commission for permission to add  a new feature
-- the option for a TiVo user to send recorded digital TV  programs via the
Internet to nine other people.

Huh? Permission? Doesn't the government's involvement in consumer 
electronics stop with making sure that a gadget doesn't jam your  neighbor's
reception or electrocute you? Since when do the feds get to  vote on product

The answer is, since last November, when the FCC voted to require 
manufacturers to support the "broadcast flag" system by July 1 of next 
year. This convoluted mechanism aims to stop full-quality copies of  digital
broadcasts from circulating on the Internet.

The FCC didn't mandate any one anti-file-sharing scheme and instead  invited
companies to submit their own proposals, which brings us to  TiVo's vaguely
Soviet predicament. Among the schemes a handful of firms  have proposed,
only TiVo's would allow tightly controlled online  transfers of recorded

For this, the company has drawn the ire of the National Football League  and
the Motion Picture Association of America, which have asked the FCC  to deny
TiVo's proposal.

The NFL says that TiVo's Internet-sharing feature will allow people to  send
game broadcasts to blacked-out viewers in real time (a team's home  game can
be aired locally only if it sells out beforehand).

"It's a question of pure ability to sell tickets," said Frank Hawkins,  the
NFL's senior vice president for business affairs. "Buffalo  typically sells
out September and October, but they've got an open-air  stadium. They'll
never sell out those December games if they are unable  to enforce the
blackout rule."

This is an important point: The NFL is not asking the FCC to protect  its
television business -- never mind that the flag exists only to stop 
indiscriminate file sharing, not cure every copyright-infringement  issue.

No, the NFL is asking for help with a stadium business, one that  already
benefits from massive government welfare. (A December 2002  Buffalo News
story calculated that the taxpayers of Erie County, N.Y.,  had anted up
about $148 million for the Bills and their stadium over  the previous

In other words, the league is asking manufacturers and viewers to  further
subsidize team owners who are already gorging themselves at the  public

There's also the slight problem that the NFL's nightmare -- blacked-out 
viewers watching a game live on the Internet -- is all but impossible.  With
almost every broadband connection available today, it would take  hours to
upload a game. A recipient would be lucky to finish watching a  Sunday
afternoon game before Monday, and sending a high-definition copy  would take
most of the week.

Jim Burger, a lawyer for TiVo, fumed about the NFL's complaint: "Maybe 
their engineers understand how to inflate a football, but I don't think 
they understand encoded, encrypted MPEG-2," TiVo's tightly secured  format.

Whenever full-quality, real-time video on the Internet does become 
commonplace, I expect to see the NFL capitalizing on it instead of 
complaining, just as it has profited from such earlier advances as 
satellite TV.

The MPAA, meanwhile, says that the way TiVo would allow customers to  share
recordings online with people who may not be friends or family  members
amounts to indiscriminate redistribution.

The Washington-based group wants TiVo to impose an "affinity  requirement,"
said Fritz Attaway, its executive vice president for  government relations.

But how can TiVo tell if the people to whom you've sent a program are 
really friends and family without launching its own Total Information 
Awareness program? Attaway called that "a good question." Until that  can be
answered, his lobby contends that the safest course is to block  Internet
sharing -- after all, he noted, you can just pop a DVD in the  mail.

What the MPAA and the NFL overlook is that every TiVo box includes  analog
video outputs that can't enforce copy controls. These allow  these devices
to work with the millions of TV sets lacking digital  inputs, but they also
let anybody plug a TiVo into a computer to upload  video at will.

The FCC has already ruled out proposals to eliminate or deactivate  analog
outputs. ("We'll probably have to go to Congress to enact  legislation to
deal with that," Attaway said.) If the problem the MPAA  and the NFL
describe is real, the remedy they seek won't solve it.

Understand that TiVo itself is no hero. Its proposed system is  thoroughly
hobbled. The people to whom you'd send recordings online  would need you to
add them to a "secure viewing group" by ordering  special security keys for
their Windows computers, associated with your  TiVo bill. Each viewer would
need to plug one such key into a PC to  receive, watch or edit your

Left on its own, the market could give TiVo's system its appropriate 
reward. Except we don't have a free market in digital television -- the  FCC
guaranteed that by approving the broadcast flag.

The MPAA and the NFL phrase their objections as reasonable attempts to  err
on the side of caution. "We're asking them to just wait awhile,  let's think
it out more thoroughly," Attaway said.

But if a programmer or an engineer with a bright idea has to go to 
Washington, hat in hand and lawyers in tow, to request permission to  sell a
better product -- and is then told "just wait awhile" -- we are  on our way
to suffocating innovation in this country.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at  address@hidden

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