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May 23, 2008
Did Microsoft (over)Implement the Broadcast Flag?
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:
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.
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