Salon’s Manjoo on the FCC TiVo Decision [8:31 pm]
The closer one looks, however, the less divine the FCC’s approval of TiVo begins to appear. For one thing, the new TiVo service seems pretty hard to fall in love with. It’s strapped down by a surfeit of copy-protection mechanisms that many people will probably find tedious if not odious. For instance, the service will allow users to transfer shows only to a small number of machines registered on a single customer account; technically, says James Burger, an attorney for TiVo, the system is meant to let users move shows from one of their TiVo systems only to another (say from a summer home to a winter home), and not even to friends or family.
TiVo was required to lock down its system and to seek the government’s approval in order to comply with the “broadcast flag” rule, which the FCC adopted last year. The rule is designed to prevent the widespread trading of television shows as we enter the age of high-definition digital television. [...]
[...] Indeed, the most troubling thing about the FCC’s broadcast flag rule is that it seems designed to stamp out the idea that we’re free to do what we want with TV. As many critics of media firms have pointed out, there’s something deeply unsettling about the fact that TiVo, a firm that completely remade the way we watch TV, needed the government’s permission to release a new technology. [...] Sure, this time the FCC allowed TiVo to innovate — but the decision could easily have gone the other way. In the future, what other technologies might the government deem too dangerous to be invented?
[...] When you download a song that you could otherwise have found only on a CD in a store, it’s reasonable to say that you’ve gotten something for nothing — what most people would call stealing. But broadcast television is free, and many of us already pay for a basic set of television shows through some kind of cable or satellite package.
[...] The mass distribution of premium shows might worry Hollywood, but the main fear of media companies is bigger than that. Media firms make money from TV by keeping it scarce. Even considering the hundreds of channels now on TV, there are only a finite number of slots available, and there are hundreds of thousands of episodes of new and old television programs that might fill those slots. TV companies choose which shows to play when, and, because you’ve got no other choice but to watch what’s on, you watch — even if you might not particularly enjoy what’s on. But would you continue to watch what the TV companies chose if you could find something you actually wanted to watch? Hollywood fears that you would not.
[...] As Hollywood sees it, in other words, TV depends on your powerlessness over it.
It’s this powerlessness that rankles Mark Sailes, a 20-year-old computer science undergraduate at the University of Leeds in the U.K., who is working on a number of systems to make TV trading easier [...]
[...] Sailes didn’t exactly come up with this idea on his own. Net visionaries have long been pondering the marriage of BitTorrent and RSS, and many people have built systems to bring about this union.
But Sailes didn’t think that anyone had gotten it just right, and this spring he and a roommate set out to build a stand-alone RSS reader meant specifically for TV trading. What they came up with is Buttress, an open-source Java application that, while still very much a work in progress, looks extremely promising.
Later: Letters from readers