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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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April 5, 2004

All Your Time Shifting Are Belong to Us

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Increasingly, cable companies are getting into the business of Personal Video Recorders (PVR), integrating them into the cable set-top box. While in many ways convenient for the consumer (one less electronic component, potentially less expensive, never have to worry about recording the right channel), a worrisome potential for control over the viewing experience remains. If the cable company gives you the PVR, they will likely retain the ability to modify how you are permitted to use it. EE Times reports on one possible example of this with regard to integrated DVD recorders (Set-top boxes may put a lid on rewritable DVDs):

The current scheme under discussion is preventing disks made on a set-top burner from being played on any other system by linking the content to the serial number of the set-top using triple DES encryption.

As engadget notes (Coming soon: set-top boxes with crippled DVD burners),

essentially you’d be able to create an archive, but when your cable box dies on you or you move and switch to a different cable or satellite provider, your entire collection would be useless to you.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. David Raeker-Jordan on April 5, 2004 1:47 PM writes...

In addition to tying the recording to a particular DVD recorder, the cable company will probably use the DMCA to prevent people from figuring out how to disable or change the registration number on the recording device.

Permalink to Comment

2. Kop on April 5, 2004 2:11 PM writes...

David, hopefully the DMCA will not reach that far. In many instances, the cable company is merely a conduit of the content without copyright ownership of it, and, therefore, would lack standing to mount a DMCA case on those grounds. But, your concern is warranted and the state of the law could move that way.

Permalink to Comment

3. Robert Young on April 5, 2004 9:43 PM writes...

These threads are, at least me, incredible. Why is it that you do not seem to realize that the "dual-edged" sword of something as powerful as digital, internet, etc. *must* lead to various control mechanisms (e.g. new law, new contracts via new business models, etc.) in order to prevent chaos.

Having said that, I certainly do understand the need to prevent monopolistic powers and erosions of civil/individual liberties.

The problem is, you all sound like left-wing fanatics, and not the very intelligent strategic thinkers you are.

Please do something about this. Just MHO.

Permalink to Comment

4. Ernest Miller on April 5, 2004 10:32 PM writes...

Allow me to turn around the question. Why is it that you do not seem to realize that the "dual-edged" sword of something as powerful as digital, internet, etc. *must* lead to new business models for copyright owners (e.g., recognition of technological progress, innovation, etc.) in order to prevent stagnation?

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5. Cypherpunk on April 6, 2004 2:44 AM writes...

I can't believe that anyone thinks a company would sell a device like this: "when your cable box dies on you or you move and switch to a different cable or satellite provider, your entire collection would be useless to you." How much of a market would there be for this functionality? DVD recorders are expensive. Few people would buy one if the DVDs were locked to that one box, as engadget speculates.

I read the EE Times article this was based on, and the concept was described only as a rather vague proposal. There are no announced devices that will work this way. Cable companies aren't going to waste their time and money providing such a limited device.

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6. Ernest Miller on April 6, 2004 10:03 AM writes...

It is vague, but amazingly enough, people do sell crippled consumer devices. For example, why can't my TiVo talk to my PC without hacking it? The hardware is there. Perhaps they won't do it, but then, why are they even considering it?

In any case, people wouldn't be buying the combination DVD burner/DVR, it would be rented to them by the cable company, perhaps as part of a promotion for only a few extra bucks a month instead of the several hundred dollars an extra device would cost.

Permalink to Comment

7. dh on April 7, 2004 8:33 AM writes...

First, the line between the cable company and the program originator is blurring -- time warner is a perfect example, and comcast is trying to buy Disney .

Second, a cable operator could always claim some copyrighted material from (1) the choice and orientation of locally originating advertising, or (2) local access channels, for example. As soon as they have one copyrighted work, then they can try to assert control over all channels via DRM and the DMCA.

Third, in light of the broadcast flag, the cable operators may be compelled to place those restrictions based on flags sent from program originators.

Fourth, this will likely lead to a technology war like we are seeing in the Internet DRM battles, with "unrestricted" TiVO-like devices treated like "illegal cable boxes" under the law, and prosecuted just as if they were hacked DirectTV boxes or cable boxes.

I'm not saying this is good or bad public policy, but just that it is likely to occur.


Permalink to Comment

8. Cypherpunk on April 7, 2004 12:05 PM writes...

The point I am making is that cable companies want to serve the public. They want to provide functionality which their customers will enjoy. The way some people think, cable companies could add a gadget to the cable box that sprays poison mist into the living room, and make you pay extra to keep the poison from being sprayed. That's the level of analysis I am seeing with regard to these proposals. There's a seemingly stubborn refusal to consider the most basic principles of economics.

A DVD recorder is going to add enormously to the cost of a cable box. It doesn't matter whether the company or the user is paying for it, but the costs have to be paid. Why would a cable company spend this much money, if the functionality it would provide is like that predicted in the article? It would be a foolish expense with insignificant benefits to the end user.

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9. Ernest Miller on April 7, 2004 12:06 PM writes...

If what you are saying is true, then why are they even considering it?

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10. Cypherpunk on April 7, 2004 8:11 PM writes...

I don't believe they are seriously considering this. According to the EE Times article (from the "Read" link in the engadget blog), this is an idea which the movie companies are lobbying the cable network providers to incorporate. The MPAA would not have to bear the costs of building useless, crippled DVD recorders into cable boxes, so it's easy for them to advocate this kind of thing. The leak of the proposal may be a political move to demonstrate to the MPAA how infeasible their suggestion is.

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