Following up on today’s earlier Headlines of the day, Cory Doctorow of Boing Bong documents the latest corporate move to track and control your media use:
20 years ago, Congress ordered the FCC to begin the process of allowing Americans to buy their pay TV boxes on the open market (rather than every American household spending hundreds of dollars a year renting a trailing-edge, ugly, energy-inefficient, badly designed box that is increasingly the locus of networked attacks that expose both the home LAN and the cameras and mics that are more and more likely to be integrated into TVs and decoder boxes) — now, at last, the FCC is doing something about it.
Right from the get-go, the entertainment industry has hated this: the pay TV companies want to keep that sweet $200+/year/customer paycheck rolling in, and the studios want to keep DRM intact, allowing them to continue to restrict the features in your home theater, far beyond anything that copyright allows (and since removing DRM, even for legal reasons, is legally fraught, these restrictions gain the force of law, even though Congress has never passed a copyright law giving rightsholders the power to control those uses).
Now, the Copyright Office (one of the most thoroughly captured agencies in the federal government) has jumped into the fray, taking the legally nonsensical — and drastically anti-public-interest — position that copyright gives the rightsholder the power to minutely control the public’s conduct while they are in the presence of a copyrighted work.
For example, I was once in a digital TV DRM standards meeting where the MPA’s rep argued vehemently for a flag that would cause a set-top box to switch off any outputs that led to a remote screen (for example, a wireless retransmitter that let you watch TV that was being decoded in your living room on a set that was in your bedroom). He argued that “being able to watch a TV show in one room that’s being received in another room has value, and if it has value, we should be able to charge for it.” He made similar arguments about limiting the length of time that a viewer could pause a show, arguing that while a 15-minute pause to go to the bathroom could be had for free, longer pauses (say, to settle a crying baby, cook dinner, or helping your kids with their homework) should be monetizable.
This is the view that the Copyright Office has endorsed. It’s wrong as a matter of law — copyright does not give rightsholders the privilege of “minutely specifying” (Hollywood’s term!) the experience of viewing, listening, reading or playing. It’s also a disaster as a matter of public policy. The Copyright Office should know better.