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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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« It Is All About Locking Down the System | Main | Burning DRM's CDs »

June 2, 2004

Cable Theft or Cable Sharing?

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The Wichita Eagle warns readers that the local cable provider is cracking down on those who are illicitly receiving cable signals as part of the cable industry's national Signal Theft Awareness Week (Cable TV isn't a free-for-all).

"A lot of people don't really see stealing cable as a crime," said Kristin Peck, director of public affairs for Cox [Wichita's cable provider].

That raises a good question. Why is it cable theft and not cable sharing? Assuming that the illicit taps into the cable system don't interfere with other's use by degrading the signal or causing frequency interference, why should cable sharing be wrong? If enough people do it (an estimated 15,000 in Wichita, or ~4.5% of the population) shouldn't it be legal? Doesn't the cable company rip people off by charging too much and by charging for channels they don't want or watch? Shouldn't people be allowed to sample, as long as they buy the DVD set later?


Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Collin on June 2, 2004 10:56 AM writes...

My favorite line from the article:

"Passive theft occurs when a resident moves into a home where the cable is active but does not report it to the company"

My appartment has cable outlets, but I've never subscribed. I've never plugged in a TV to see if there's a signal on the cable. Maybe I should, so I can see if I'm committing "passive theft" without even knowing.

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2. rkrjrdn on June 2, 2004 11:04 AM writes...

This sounds like a law school exam question.

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3. Mike liveright on June 2, 2004 12:18 PM writes...

I want as much open access as I can "reasonably" get but also want to have a free enterprise model that allows the creation of copyright material.

On this basis, I would vote that tapping off of the Cable is theft where as if I am one person, I should expect to be able to use a second cable converter, e.g. for my bedroom, without significant cost.

This sort of goes along with the idea that cable service, DVD's, software, etc. should be licensed like books. One simultaneous use at a time.

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4. Brad Hutchings on June 2, 2004 4:38 PM writes...

Yeah, it sounds like a law school question. Here's the answer: Because it is against the law to share cable. It likely also violates the usage contract. If you don't like the product, the terms, or the price, here's an idea... don't sign up.

If enough people do it ... shouldn't it be legal?

So now the Copyfight is about preserving the rights of drunk college guys to force themselves on women. You go guy! </sarcasm>

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5. Ernest Miller on June 3, 2004 6:55 AM writes...

Ah Brad,

You missed the point of this exercise. The point was not promote cable stealing, but to ridicule some of the facile arguments used to justify file sharing.

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6. cypherpunk on June 3, 2004 12:27 PM writes...

Wow... so that was satirical? I wonder if anyone caught it? It sure sounded like a million other arguments I've seen on this page and elsewhere. Hmmm... I wonder how many other postings on this site are also attempts at satire?

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7. Ernest Miller on June 3, 2004 12:33 PM writes...

Oh, come on now, cypherpunk. You've read my stuff for awhile. You, if anyone, should have gotten it.

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8. Brad Hutchings on June 3, 2004 5:10 PM writes...

I don't know what to believe anymore! Ernest, your post seemed a bit over the top, but maybe that's the problem distinguishing it as subtle satire... it was just "a bit".

The facile arguments for cable sharing or file sharing unfortunately are the strong arguments for it. Seriously Ernest, all you have to do is come up with a convincing argument that file sharing will make copyright owners as rich or more rich than traditional distribution, and you win the battle. It's that simple. Same with dropping DRM. Perhaps the larger market data is open to interpretation, but I can tell you that from an individual copyright holder's perspective, you clobber your revenues when you don't give people the right encouragement (hurdles) to buy.

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9. Ernest Miller on June 3, 2004 5:22 PM writes...


I can't make the argument that copyright owners are going to become wealthier under a new business model. Some will thrive, many will fail. That is known as creative destruction.

I've never said that using DRM doesn't make sense from the point of view of an Apple or an RIAA - for them it makes a lot of sense. My concern is that it doesn't make sense to enforce DRM through law. After all, it would make sense for Chrysler to have a monopoly on gasoline for their cars. However, from society's point of view, it wouldn't make sense to enforce that monopoly.

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10. cypherpunk on June 3, 2004 8:36 PM writes...

Do you think it would make sense to enforce laws that would set up such a monopoly as part of the sales contract? So Chrysler could make you agree to buy only Chrysler Gas as a condition of buying a Chrysler car? And then if you found out that Arco Gas could also work in your car and was cheaper, Chrysler could then sue you for breach of contract if you used Arco? What do you think about those kinds of laws and contracts?

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11. Ernest Miller on June 3, 2004 8:49 PM writes...

I would think it is likely to be a contract of adhesion and unenforceable on that point. I would think that under existing law there are a number of contract elements that are not permitted for automobile contracts and this would be added to the list, if it wasn't already covered. I would wonder how one would enforce such a contract when you sold the car to another individual.

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12. Seth Finkelstein on June 3, 2004 10:37 PM writes...

Ernest, I've got to say, with all the talk of "a la carte" cable channels, and the market for DVD's, I think people can be forgiven for not realizing you intended satire - the real world is too close to that.

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13. Chief Auditor on August 17, 2004 1:45 PM writes...

In answer to: "Assuming that the illicit taps into the cable system don't interfere with other's use by degrading the signal or causing frequency interference, why should cable sharing be wrong?"

First, an "illicit tap", under Federal law is "Wire Tap". Does it degrade signal? It sure does. Check this article:

It can also affect fire, police and ambulance communications as well as airport navigation systems through loose connections and the use of cheap, poorly shielded cable.

Let me try to shed some more light on the reality of "unauthorized accounts" with a couple of links that may be helpfull.

Chief Auditor
Bush-Waterhouse Communications

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