FCC gives prehistoric Hollywood permission to be retarded

by Paul William Tenny

Federal Communications CommissionIt happened a couple of weeks ago, but I'd love to point out just how stupid this is. The Federal Communications Commission has frowned upon collaboration between content producers and device makers in ways that limit the ways you can enjoy the content and use those devices. Occasionally, though, the weak-kneed FCC will surrender to pressure from hordes of Hollywood lobbyists, which is what happened when they gave the green light to the broadcast flag.

The broadcast flag was a digital bit of information carried alongside a TV program that instructed recording devices to stop recording. The intent, according to Hollywood congloms, was to prevent high-value content like new pay-per-view movies or specials like the Super Bowl from being recording, and then pirated.

The FCC rule would have required all the manufactures of devices connected to your TV to support and obey the broadcast flag.

A federal court stuck down the order as beyond the authority delegated to the FCC by Congress to regulate the airwaves on behalf of the public. Ignoring the fact that the broadcast flag was for the corporate good and not the public, it wasn't within their legal mandate anyway.

Along those same lines, Hollywood studios whined some more and got another anti-consumer rule written for their benefit. This one is called "selective output control".

Put simply, if any device such as a cable box or satellite receiver has analog outputs (something other than HDMI with encryption enabled, then called HDCP), little bits of data in the TV program can tell the hardware that you own to turn off the unprotected outputs. If your TV is connected via something other than protected HDMI and you try to watch a recently released movie, you can look forward to your TV shutting off, more or less.

Ars Technica has a story on the subject if you're more interested in how that works.

I'm telling you about this because this isn't how new movies and TV shows get pirated so it doesn't even address the problem of piracy. Most pirated TV shows are recorded using ATSC (the high-def standard that replaced NTSC in the U.S.) over-the-air (OTA) tuners. If you watch TV shows using an antenna hooked up to a digital convertor box, then you're watching an unencrypted and totally unprotected high-def broadcast which can be recorded with a $50 TV tuner card in your computer. I have one of these, it's not rocket science and the video quality is almost always superior to what you'll get with satellite, digital cable, or even Verizon's fiber service.

Selectable output control will not protect that content from these video capture cards, so the FCC is turning over your remote control to Hollywood industry for absolutely no benefit to anyone.

Movies, of course, get pirated well before they are broadcast on television or released on DVD, which means SOC won't stop that, either.

This isn't just dumb, it's retarded, because the equally prehistoric and primitive music industry already tried this with the help of Microsoft and the Secure Audio Path technology. SAP would have created and end-to-end encrypted pathway between the operating system at the software level, and your speakers, which would contain a chip that could decrypt the audio. This was meant to stop people (some how) from ripping CDs and then sharing the resulting MP3s in the early days of music piracy.

Don't understand how that's supposed to work?

You're not alone. Someone was under the humorous impression that people would copying CDs by playing them, with the output cord of the soundcard looping back into its own input, kind of like attaching the output of one VCR to the input of another to copy a VHS tape. Only nobody ever did that (with audio), just like nobody uses the analog output of their fancy HD satellite receiver in order to mass-pirate TV shows. (Sadly a lot of people do this with DVRs, a perfectly legal and legitimate non-threatening consumer technology that has nothing to do with real piracy. With SOC, your TiVO just because a paper weight.)

I don't fault Hollywood for wanting to protect their content, but there's no way SOC will prevent piracy at all, much less in a meaningful way, yet seems guarnateed to upset a lot of people who are going to sit down to watch something only to find out that devices and services that they've already paid for are going to stop working.

And the FCC, tasked by Congress to work on behalf of consumers, is making it happen.

in Digital Media, Film, Streaming Video, Technology


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did you really need to use the word retarded in your headline? wouldn't dumb or stupid have sufficed? At least you wouldn't have trashed anyone with special needs in the process.

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