Monday, August 09, 2004

Dynamic Duo Strikes Again

Hewlett Packard and Philips are at it again. The dynamic duo that partly supplied the basis for the Final Report of the European High Level Working Group on DRMS, have received approval for their Video Content Protection System (VCPS) by the United States Federal Communication Commission (FCC). VCPS is a copyright protection system that lets consumers record digital television, while preventing further dissemination outside the home environment. VCPS is reigned by the FCC's broadcast flag scheme.

The broadcast flag is a technological measure to control the distribution of digital over-the-air television content via p2p-systems, and blurs the regulation of broadcasting and the Internet. In order to protect revenues from second-market sales and advertisement it expands FCC-protectionism to the ends of the network.

The broadcast flag consists of meta data and is transmitted with the digital television signal to “tell” a receiver of these signals whether it may redistribute the content or not. To be effective the architecture of this receiver must facilitate a trusted environment, which can guarantee that the tagged content is only distributed when the broadcast flag allows it.

The FCC has made it clear that the broadcast flag will be applicable to any device that may receive digital television signals:
“We further note that we intend our redistribution control regulations to apply to any device or piece of equipment whether it be consumer electronics, PC or IT device that contains a tuner capable of receiving over-the-air television broadcast signals.”
If a computer contains a receiver card for digital television signals, the data stream between this card and other applications, and finally the Internet, should flow over a secure channel. The architecture of the computer has to be modified to achieve this, embedding an island of control into the open platform that it is. In result the implementation of the broadcast flag not just restricts the user's (fair use) control over copyrighted content, but also over part of its computer. The FCC tries to replace the red flag of piracy with the broadcast flag, but boards computer hardware and the Internet in its effort.

This is a great quote of Vikki Pachera, vice president of Alliances and Business Development, HP:
"While developing the Video Content Protection System, we continually kept the perspective of the person sitting in their living room watching TV as a dominant part of the equation."
The couch potato consumer watching Wheel of Fortune, who doesn't leave his living room but to get another Coke from the fridge between commercials. This kind of thinking shows how social relations resulting from incumbent communicative networks (broadcasting) tend to be sustained by the institutions that provide them and feed on them. What is more, they are sustained and often projected on emerging technologies (Internet). While its architecture undermines many of the technological and economical justifications of the broadcasting model, the Internet has been interpreted in light of, and fitted into, incumbent structures. And here we go again. The present is good enough for the future, and less flexibility is more joy. Thanks FCC, thanks Dynamic Duo.
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For those who master Dutch, here is an article on the broadcast flag I co-wrote some months ago.


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