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EFF: Endangered Gizmos List
2005.02.07 (Mon) 22:04
Last month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation created a list of Endangered Gizmos — a watchlist for products and services that are being lobbied and legislated out of existence by large corporations and media conglomerates in an attempt to protect their profit margins. From the EFF web site:
FCC Chairman Michael Powell calls TiVo "God's machine," and its devotees have been known to declare, "You can take my TiVo when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!" But suppose none of us had ever been given the opportunity to use or own a TiVo -- or, for that matter, an iPod? Suppose instead that Hollywood and the record companies hunted down, hobbled, or killed these innovative gizmos in infancy or adolescence, to ensure that they wouldn't grow up to threaten the status quo?
That's the strategy the entertainment industry is using to control the next generation of TiVos and iPods. Its arsenal includes government-backed technology mandates, lawsuits, international treaties, and behind-the-scenes negotiations in seemingly obscure technology standards groups. The result is a world in which, increasingly, only industry-approved devices and technologies are "allowed" to survive in the marketplace.
This is bad news for innovation and free competition, but it also threatens a wide range of activities the entertainment conglomerates have no use for -- everything from making educational "fair" use of TV or movie clips for a classroom presentation, to creating your own "Daily Show"-style video to make a political statement, to simply copying an MP3 file to a second device so you can take your music with you.
Hey, we're all for capitalism, but that's not what this is. This is political backscratching and corporate greed trying to stifle technological progress in order to earn a buck. It's also an attempt to get rid of devices that could be used to infringe on copyrights, but which could also be used for perfectly legitimate purposes. Of course, it's easier for the corporations to just ban the medium than it is to enforce copyright laws, no matter what the other impacts of such a move might be.
As the list points out, in addition to the furor around peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa and Morpheus, the other main battleground seems to be the digital video recording services. Remember ReplayTV? They had the audacity to allow commercials to be automatically skipped at the press of a button, and the entertainment conglomerates sued them. ReplayTV is now extinct.
TiVo, the frontrunner in digital video recording services these days, won't skip commercials in one bound, but will allow you to fast-forward through them. At least, for now. As reported a while back over on SEB, the word is that fast-forwarding through commercials on TiVo may someday cause pop-up ads to spawn on your screen. So, the same advertising that we all know and loathe from our web surfing may soon invade our TiVos as well. In addition, we're hearing about another ogre lurking nearby, one known as "transitional fair use." From AllYourTV.com:
A middle-level executive at Time Warner has approached several cable companies and broached the idea of restricting the ability of customers who use those company's Digital Video Recorders to record several popular Time Warner TV programs.
The term being used by the executive is"transitional fair use," and the scenerio laid out goes roughly along these lines:
Viewers would be able to record an episode with their DVR, but there would be a time limit on how long it would be available for viewing. The executive was pushing for an expiration date that coincided with the premiere of the next episode. The consensus of the cable executived was that it needed to be between 2-4 weeks.
Regardless, the episode would then be unavailable until they are offered as part of a "video on demand" package. There would also be restrictions on recording episodes via VOD, with the Time Warner executive pushing for the ability to completely prevent recording the VOD presentations. Cable executives argue that this restriction prevents time-shifting and limits the revenue upside for both parties.
Once again, the episodes would be unavailable until they were offered again on cable, at a date that closely matched the release of the DVD box set.
Frankly, the logical and practical flaws with this plan are staggering. I guess if you want to record your favorite weekly television show, and it falls under a rule like this one, you had better not go on a two week vacation.
We have our own thoughts concerning what we see as problems with copyright laws and the entertainment media industry these days, but even without walking down that path, it is easy to see why the above measures should never be written into law. For example, think of how this would apply to some other technologies that we take for granted today. Audio tapes come to mind since they can be used to illegally reproduce and sell copyrighted material, among numerous other uses. Under the logic employed by the media companies, they should be deemed to be illegal as well. Put simply, banning a technological device or service just because it could be used to do something illegal is exactly the same as banning pens because they can be used to stab people to death.
We meant to post something about this a few weeks ago since, as technophiles, it hits us pretty hard. We're glad to have the EFF out there fighting on our side, and we'll be keeping an eye on this list. From where we sit, if a corporation needs to stifle technology in order to maintain a healthy bottom line, then it clearly doesn't have a solid business plan. Artificially, propping up profits at the expense of technology — and the consumers — is never acceptable.
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[ Filed under: % Business & the Economy % Computers & the Internet % Media & Censorship % Science & Technology ]
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