DRMTV – Speak now…

Broadcast flag… or forever hold your peace and don’t bother complaining later.

In case you missed it, something very important happened last week, when some DVR users were prevented from recording a particular NBC television program.

By all accounts of the parties involved, it may have been a “mistake” on the part of MS and/or NBC. Leaving that discussion aside (since it’s speculation and not the point anyway) , it’s critical to realize that a test of public opinion has been conducted. Whether this test was initiated intentionally or accidentally doesn’t matter nearly as much as the results of the test, and so far they’re not encouraging.

In case you’re wondering, the essence of the test is determining how the public will react to these sorts of restrictions. Ever since the Sony vs. Universal case of 1984 established the consumer’s right to time-shift their media-consuming experience, the content producers have been looking for ways to undermine that right. (See DIVX – for those of you not old enough to remember this, it would have changed the concept of DVDs as we know them)

With the advent of digital distribution, they sought to reassert this same old claim, this time using technological means, since it had already been denied them via legal channels. Fortunately, three years ago consumers successfully rallied to defeat the broadcast flag mandate, a collusion between the FCC and the studios to take back this right from the consumer again.

With that decision, it was established that while content producers could pass a flag indicating that they don’t wish particular content to be recorded, software and device manufacturers (and consumers) are under no obligation to honor that wish, since it would violate their previously established right.

As of last week, two things are clear: some manufacturers have decided to willingly honor it, and some content providers have decided to attempt to make use of it. The test is how we as consumers will respond to those two actions. Will we make it clear that such actions are not acceptable and force them to reconsider disrespecting that right, or will we not bother since it doesn’t really affect most of us right now?

The sad answer is probably the latter. After all, tons of people have already gotten used to the idea of “buying” crippled and restricted media (music and video) from stores like iTunes, essentially endorsing the same kind of perpetual producer-ownership mentality that is behind the broadcast flag, by voting in the way that’s most meaningful to the companies involved – their dollars.

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3 Responses to DRMTV – Speak now…

  1. Nate says:

    How does one “speak now”?

    It seems like you think this is fundamental rights issue rather than just a consumer preference but I don’t understand. I don’t see how Sony vs. Universal established any right.

    I don’t care not because I’ve been conditioned to except my rights being disrespected but because I don’t understand why it’s very important. I mean I’ll take into account as a consumer but I don’t get why I should/can do more?

  2. Dan Cameron says:

    Other then voicing your opinion (not sure if a blog comment or post would suffice) the only thing you could do is not support hardware or software that voluntarily supports broadcast flag-like content restrictions; whether it was a test or not.

    Jared,
    You tried awfully hard to correlate DRM with recording free content but it’s clear to me they’re different; DRM as it is now involves copy protection.

    Regardless, you might want to apply you’re logic of not voting for DRM with your pocketbook by advocating a boycott against Vista or Windows MCE.

    Honestly the only solution I see is informing the common consumer. Like copy-protection it should than work itself out–because only after copy-protection went mainstream; people complained; the right companies petitioned against it did things start changing for the better.

  3. JB says:

    I’d rather not argue the semantics of a “right” – of course I’m not equating it with the more fundamental type of human “rights”, but I prefer using the language of “consumer rights” as opposed to “consumer preferences” when it comes to cases like this in which there are legal precedents established relating to preserving the consumers’ “options” in the face of corporations wanting to create an environment in which certain options do not exist or are not available to the consumer.

    “Speaking out” can involve any number of things, and it will take a combination of them to succeed in this particular battle (see my earlier reference to DIVX). The importance of resisting things like this as “actively” as you can is that otherwise the general public will come to accept it as the way it has to be without knowing any better, and allow the corporations to become so entrenched that it will be more difficult to force them to change later, assuming the public wakes up and realizes it wants them to.

    Posting this here, along with all other possible avenues of discussion, does hopefully serve to raise awareness of the issue, which I think is an important component of “the fight”.

    The other is, of course – as I also stated above – economic pressure: voting with your wallet.

    Dan, to your point, I do in fact “boycott” the products you mentioned (Vista & MCE) personally – I don’t use them at all and I advocate free software alternatives. As you’re (sometimes painfully) aware I encourage you and others to do the same.

    This also extends to other similar forms of perpetual-producer-ownership restrictions like DRM, which I also refuse to economically support, and actively discourage others from supporting as well.

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