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May 23, 2008

Did Microsoft (over)Implement the Broadcast Flag?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Sherman, set the wayback machine to 2005! No, I'm not talking about the Internet Archive's Wayback machine. I'm talking about traveling back in time to late 2005 when the 'net was buzzing - angrily - about a Cartel proposal to require DRM to be embedded in every broadcast signal. The end of 'free' TV? No more time-shifting allowed? You remember that.

In the end, the Cartel got half a pie. There's a flag, but the FCC explicitly stated that it wasn't supposed to prevent home recording. Even "redistributing it within the home or similar personal environment as consistent with copyright law" is allowed. That's a quote from the FCC's rulemaking on the issue (helpful PDF from our friends at the EFF).

So why are we talking about this again? Well, it seems that Microsoft's Vista Media Center suddenly started refusing to record over-the-air digital content broadcast by NBC. Here's a screen capture provided by the EFF, which is trying to raise the profile on this incident:
Vista shows 'Recording Cancelled' message over American Gladiators

According to Greg Sandoval at CNET, Microsoft has admitted that it implemented the Broadcast Flag and is claiming that it's based on FCC rules. Duck and cover! Duck and cover!

Aside from being just blatantly wrong in its justification, MSFT's admission raises a host of questions. First, it seems likely that the broadcast flag wasn't just added to Vista Media Center recently. So why did it just become visible? One possibility is there's a bug somewhere - certainly wouldn't be the first time. But nobody's claiming this was an error. Another possibility is that NBC asked for recordings of its popular programs to be blocked. Or maybe the flag on those programs was erroneously set. So far NBC is mum, claiming to be looking into things.

My cynical take on it is that they're waiting to see how many people notice and complain. If they get a lot of bad stink they claim it was an error, apologize, and move on. If this blows over then they can feel they have a green light to block home recording any time they want, at least for people foolish enough to use Vista as their DVR.

MythTV, anyone?

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Markets and Monopolies


1. Michael Sherrin on May 23, 2008 1:59 PM writes...

The stink was bad enough. NBC has claimed this was all just a big oopsy:

This doesn't mean they won't try again.

Permalink to Comment

2. Nobody on June 16, 2008 2:01 PM writes...

I don't know if this might be related, but ...

The other day, a Bell Expressvu HD satellite receiver/PVR unit was told to record an episode of Law and Order from a specialty channel known as Bravo. It mysteriously failed -- the receiver/PVR unit was on during the time the show was to be recorded, but when it was checked later the episode didn't appear in the list of recordings. No error message was observed, but nobody was there to see one at the actual time of recording, so perhaps there was one. Weather was clear so it doesn't seem likely the satellite signal was lost during recording. The PVR had plenty of free storage space.

There's no logical reason for it to have failed, in other words, which leaves only the illogical. Broadcast Flag style hijinx top the list of illogical reasons, particularly considering that the PVR came from a) the tv provider rather than an independent company and b) a telco, as well.

Permalink to Comment

3. Nobody on June 16, 2008 2:06 PM writes...

I don't know what the heck's wrong with comment posting. First try at posting the above comment failed -- the browser just spun and task manager showed no network activity except for a brief spike. So I retried, and then it succeeded, but posted two copies.

One of two things happened, both of which indicate a problem at your end.

Case 1: The first attempt to post actually succeeded, but behaved as if it had failed. That is incorrect. Sending an error message (or not responding at all) on success is an error.

Case 2: The first attempt failed. Since there was nothing wrong with my submission, it shouldn't have, and its failing was incorrect. Then the second attempt "counted double", which is also incorrect. In this latter case, your server has at least 2 bugs.

To top it off, the "remember me" radio button seems to be completely ignored. No cookie gets set. I don't have anything configured that would be blocking it, either.

Permalink to Comment

4. me on August 14, 2008 10:49 PM writes...

Are you sure that your computer wasn't waiting on a firewall to clear the submission, a connection to be re-established due to being idle too long, or your system being busy due to another application, any of which could have caused your browser application to have stored the command to post in a buffer, and as soon as it gained access or the resources to execute the command became available, it then sent what it had already stored and was waiting to submit? Similar to when running a resource hog program such as an emulator and you hit ctrl alt del several times but nothing happens, and then several instances of task manager pop up after like a few minutes of not responding, or when windows actually says not responding on a program or window, but if you wait long enough it does finally respond properly.

Permalink to Comment

5. me on August 14, 2008 10:55 PM writes...

Ah, I now see that it could have been that the site was just slow to respond and even though you first submission was sent and received, the site took a while to update the page. Which, by the way, seems to rule out the site having limited bandwidth, and that being the bottleneck effect that you seemingly experienced. This could happen if it is a large enough site with enough other active pages as well.

Permalink to Comment

6. Nobody on September 1, 2008 12:06 PM writes...

It was certainly not a problem at my end.

It seems likely the site failed to wait until it had actually successfully posted before displaying a new page. It should wait, then send either a success or an error message page. Most other sites do do that.

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