Sunday, May 08, 2005

MPAA Spins Broadcast Flag Decision: Negative for Consumers

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) spins last Friday's Broadcast Flag decision as negative for the American consumer. In a press release [MS Word] MPAA's president and CEO Dan Glickman notes that
"This is a disappointing decision and could create a digital television divide by slowing or eliminating access to high quality digital programming for some consumers."
The digital divide Glickman is referring to is the discrepancy in the availability of digital television between users receiving it through satellite and cable service (labeled as secure) and over the air (labeled as insecure). To differentiate on the security of the delivery systems, and pressing that the implementation of the Broadcast Flag would fill this "security gap", is a little hopeful. It has been pointed out that the Broadcast Flag scheme is based on an insufficient threat model and would not withhold the tech-savvy user from redistributing the televised content over the internet (e.g. Felten 2003). That while the average consumer, the consumer the MPAA apparently takes to its heart, is prevented from casual copying, and what's more, fair uses.

The press release stresses in bold that "The Broadcast Flag does NOT prevent copying – only redistribution over the Internet and other digital networks." That statement goes from hopeful to a little misleading. The Broadcast Flag implements a technological protection regime in the hardware of consumer devices and the general purpose computer to prevent redistribution of flagged content over the internet. Its goal is to prevent redistribution; its tool to reach this goal is keeping the original, flagged content within a closed network of approved devices. Taking content outside of that network, making copies to unapproved devices is not allowed. Possible fair uses by consumers (time-shifting, platform-shifting, taking excerpts) that involve copying the original content would not be possible. Saying that the Broadcast Flag "does NOT prevent copying" is a superficial spin, which the FCC already applied when it changed the name of the Broadcast Flag proceedings from Digital Broadcast Copy Protection to Digital Broadcast Content Protection. Fair consumer uses are largely spun away in the process.

The biggest spin comes with the MPAA presenting itself as the consumer crusaders of the digital (television) age:
“We will continue working aggressively on all fronts to make sure consumers will have access to high-value content on broadcast television.”
Again, this is a pointer to the digital television divide that is upon us, if we may believe the MPAA. To stress that some consumers will be left in the analogue cold if the Broadcast flag is not implemented, is based on the theory that content producers will not provide "high-value" digital content without a solid content protection mechanism in place. Until now these threats have proven idle, and it has to be seen if content producers will or are willing to kill off broadcasters, often cutting into their own revenue streams. Not the least because they often have (financial) interests in the broadcasters themselves.

On one point the MPAA's press release is right: the Court's ruling is on the FCC's lack of authority to regulate, and the MPAA will undoubtedly "continue working aggressively" at the US congress to secure secured access for consumers to digital television (leaving the question of its quality aside). This is the couch potato consumer that fits into the MPAA'a incumbent business model and is locked-in to his home network. A representative of Hewlett-Packard hit the nail on its head when speaking over its Broadcast Flag style content protection measure:
"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."
Keep that perspective in mind. It might be your future if the MPAA wins the fight over your consumer interests.
- - -
Later Also note this New York Times article:
In 2002, Mel Karmazin, then president of Viacom, threatened to withdraw high-definition versions of programming from the airwaves if the flag technology was not adopted, a threat echoed by other broadcasters and movie studios.

“Now we will see if threats to pull broadcasts from CBS and others are real or not,” said Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and HDNet, an all-HDTV channel available through cable and satellite, and an opponent of the broadcast flag.

Those measures are unlikely to be taken any time soon. First, advocates of the flag technology will try to circumvent the court’s ruling through Congressional legislation.

[…] “We’re concerned, because if proper protection is not in place, consumers could lose content,” said John Feehery, executive vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group representing the major Hollywood studios.

Thru Furdlog


Anonymous Anonymous said...

what is beautiful and interesting is that the solution to the MPAA's woes might be in their own words:

"This is a disappointing decision and could create a digital television divide by slowing or eliminating access to high quality digital programming for some consumers."

Does this mean that there are other consumers (perhaps most) that will not have high quality programming eliminated? From what I understand in this area those that are not limited are those on the bleeding edge of technology (TV over IP, etc) where, correct? Isn't this the life circle of capitalism? Should they really be complaining considering it means more revenue for some of their constituents? (that is, those that provide the medium with which to broadcast movies and the likes in the first place).

9/5/05 10:07  

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