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.