The Motion Picture Association of America took its crusade for selectable output control (SOC) to the next level on Thursday, responding to critics in the FCC's proceeding on the matter. The MPAA's July 31 filing takes particular exception to suggestions that the agency lift its prohibition on SOC on a two-year trial basis, and makes it clear that the group won't take kindly to other limitations, either. If consumers want to see movies on TV earlier than they appear on DVD, the MPAA says, they had better be willing to allow movie studios to remotely shut down some cable box outputs.
No trial period
In early June the FCC granted the MPAA a proceeding on its waiver request. SOC lets video distributors close down analog outputs on broadcasts to block the so-called "analog hole" that MPAA fears can be easily accessed by movie pirates. This security will, in turn, encourage Hollywood studios to partner with cable companies and release early-run studio films to TV, with the guarantee that the movies will pass only over protected digital links such as those that use HDCP.
"The Petitioners' theatrical movies are too valuable in this early distribution window to risk their exposure to unauthorized copying," MPAA wrote to the FCC. "Distribution over insecure outputs would facilitate the illegal copying and redistribution of this high value content, causing untold damage to the DVD and other 'downstream' markets."
Now MPAA also warns that a "calendar-based restriction" on SOC would be impractical, "and fail to provide the regulatory certainty" that movie studios will need to negotiate with cable companies for the fast transfer of early run movies to TV.
Ars construed from this language the possibility that MPAA wants SOC in order to limit the future ability of consumers to copy or record early run movies when they appear on TV. I even had at it with several representatives of the trade association in a recent interview, which, not surprisingly, drew different reactions across the blogosphere.
"What the MPAA is clearly trying to do here is start releasing movies on TV before they're available on DVD," declared Techdirt's Mike Masnick in a commentary on the exchange, "but wants to do so in a way that users won't be able to record on their DVRs (though, they hardly come out and say that)."
On the other hand, Content Agenda's Paul Sweeting takes me to task for making the MPAA come off as "vaguely hysterical (or worse)." Sweeting points out that at present it's pretty difficult to make permanent copies of VOD/PPV fare. He predicts that the early HD VOD offerings that the studios would like to release will similarly come with 'copy-never' or 'display only' flags.
"The use of SOC by the studios would not deny consumers a right they presumptively have, or a capability they currently enjoy," Sweeting concludes. "The issue for the studios is whether unprotected outputs could be used to record the early-release content in ways that are not currently permitted and then use that recording as the source for additional unauthorized copies."
Uncheck our authority
MPAA's latest filing does not focus on this debate, but on the conditions that various commenters have proposed for the waiver. The trade group wrangles with two parties that express concern that the cable companies not be allowed to use SOC in an unsupervised fashion, these being The Digital Transition Licensing Administrator (DTLA) and TiVo.
DTLA helps coordinate digital copy protection standards for the so-called "5C" manufacturing group (Toshiba, Intel, Matsushita, Sony, and Hitachi). It is skeptical of the plan and warns that SOC "cannot be left to the unfettered discretion of content owners and MVPDs [cable companies]. Such unchecked authority places far too much power in the hands of content owners, to the potential detriment of all other equally-important stakeholders."
DVR maker TiVo extends this argument to propose specific limits on the waiver. The company writes that whatever new service comes out of MPAA's proposal, it should not be able to disable any protected digital outputs approved by CableLabs, the cable industry's R&D group. "Consumer electronics manufacturers such as TiVo have made significant investments and brought innovative devices to market in reliance on the standards created by CableLabs," TiVo suggests.
MPAA says that there is "no demonstrated public interest need" for this. "For the new business model the Waiver would make possible, Petitioners and MVPDs should have the flexibility to use the technologies that are best suited to serve the needs of their mutual customers, while balancing the need to protect their content," the trade association writes.
TiVo also asks that if the MPAA receives its SOC waiver, it be limited to a 120-day period "between theatrical release and home media release." No again, MPAA insists, arguing that different movies have different release patterns, based on their popularity. "There is no compelling need to establish an arbitrary, fixed window for the proposed new Services," MPAA writes. "In fact, there are compelling marketplace statistics that demonstrate such a regulatory limitation is unnecessary."
Down the analog hole
The MPAA's filing also responds to the comments of Public Knowledge and seven other organizations. PK's filing expressed skepticism that the "analog hole" problem really requires this waiver.
"Evidence which the MPAA has relied on in the past to demonstrate the dangers of the 'analog hole' is unreliable and inapposite," the groups charge. "In the complete absence of evidence, there is no reason to believe that additional, costly, restrictive technologies are needed."
MPAA answers, in so many words, that the fears of its own member studios make the need for the waiver self-evident. "The fact that almost no movies are made available to MVPDs pre-DVD release is clear and convincing evidence that the analog hole is an impediment to the early window release of high-value content," the MPAA concludes. The association has pressed its Petition for Expedited Special Relief on behalf of Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers.
Further reading:The MPAA's reply-to-comments on its waiver requestTiVO's filing Public Knowledge et al's comments