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July 6, 2005
Slings and Arrows of Outraged Hollywood
Well, they're not outraged yet, but believe me they will be. Calling their device "Slingbox" a California company (Sling Media) is offering consumers the freedom to route their incoming television signal anywhere they want. Despite the device's (to me) hefty pricetag of $250, many Best Buy and CompUSA stores report being sold out of units.
Sling are stepping into an extremely gray legal area. They claim that "place shifting" ought to be protected by the same legal doctrine that protected time shifting. But as we learned last year, when TiVo introduced features to permit sending programs from one TiVo to another, the Cartel got up in arms as did other business that depend on breaking "proximity control," such as major league sports and local TV stations. On the flip side, cable operators can easily see the extra revenue potential for something like a Slingbox in getting more subcribers to hook up to new channels and services. Like DVR functionality, it's easy to see how this kind of capability could be built into a set-top box.
For now Sling are trying to play nice with the Cartel and have limited their device to only transmitting to one other device at a time. But that's a hacker-snipped resistor away from being a rebroadcast device and then it's Grokster all over again. Jason Schultz called these things "me2me" applications and that's what the manufacturer's seem to want (no inducement here, nope!). But I'm quite sure the street will find its own uses for the Slingbox, too.
UPDATE: A creative reader suggested that it's not necessary to break the 1:1 feature of these devices, if the receving "1" is a BitTorrent site somewhere "offshore" (from the US perspective). The result would be a fairly fast worldwide distribution of any broadcast content. The Cartel still has at least three avenues of attack against such a system, but it's an interesting intellectual exercise. Nothing in the preceding should be construed as an attempt to induce anyone to actually do this or any other copyright-violating activity.
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