June 18, 2008

Stirring the Pot [2:58 pm]

Not that it’s news, but it’s interesting to see it all put together like this: Digital TV foreshadows erosion of Internet rights

[...] The entertainment lobby (my shorthand to avoid spewing the alphabet soup of movie, TV, and music trade groups), having failed to get the feds to impose a tax on videotapes and recordable discs, or to hold Internet providers liable for copyrighted content transferred through their networks, or (so far) to add a piracy tax to every broadband user’s monthly bill, is using the most powerful weapon yet devised: “Standards.”

I put that in quotes to differentiate it from true standards. Analog television, for example, works because standards and regulations ensure the interoperation of transmitters and receivers. These standards take the public good into account. The move toward digital television, which will be complete in February 2009, is attended by standards and regulations constructed to ensure interoperability and to guard the public good as well. No broadcaster can arrange that a digital TV signal require a non-standard receiver, for example, one that bills your credit card every time you watch a popular show on an over-the-air (OTA) digital channel. As a matter of practice, most cable companies pass local broadcasters’ HD channels to their basic cable subscribers.

The very characteristic that makes digital TV look so good is the one that makes it so vulnerable to restriction and manipulation: A TV broadcast is no longer a signal, it’s a bitstream, one that has far fewer points of origination than the Internet and is therefore easier to control. Digital TV is rapidly heading for precisely the sort of lockdown that entertainment and broadcast lobbies desire for the Internet, and to the extent that they can be used as video players and recorders, our PCs, Macs, and notebooks.

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