The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the only public interest group to have gained entrance into the secretive meetings of the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB), a group that creates the television and video specifications used in Europe, Australia, and much of Asia and Africa. In a report released today, EFF shows how U.S. movie and television companies have convinced DVB to create new technical specifications that would build digital rights management technologies into televisions. These specifications are likely to take away consumers’ rights, which will subsequently be sold back to them piecemeal — so entertainment fans will have to pay again and again for legitimate uses of lawfully acquired digital television content.
I maintain restrictions like these are what HDTV (and digital television in general) is really about (HDTV is typically broadcast digitally). The increased quality is merely a minor selling point to get people to buy into it without knowing what restrictions they’re buying right along with HDTV. Americans will be pushed into HDTV really hard about a year from now.
Digital booksellers were unable to convince people to do this because they didn’t have the force of law TV broadcasters have, and because booksellers didn’t get their argument straight when they tried to bamboozle people out of their rights. Electronic books (sometimes called “eBooks”) were initially distributed with poor displays and licensing restrictions so onerous even non-technical mainstream press reacted badly to them (some years ago Harper’s magazine reprinted the license for the Adobe eBook version of Alice in Wonderland. One of the restrictions tried to disallow reading the book aloud). So long as the public complains chiefly on technical merit (the screen isn’t big enough, the screen doesn’t work well in sunlight, the device is too heavy/expensive, etc.) they believe they’re setting up an effective argument against eBooks. But once these technical problems are fixed, the public will have no reason to reject eBooks because they never argued against the loss of rights that (unnecessarily) goes along with these eBooks. eBook publishers would love to get their audience into a position where people rely on eBooks for daily use and can’t easily remember a time before eBooks. This way publishers can take away rights you enjoy with paper books—rights you won’t have with eBooks such as right of first sale, which lets you resell your books; fair use, to copy a snippet of your own choosing rather than letting the publisher dictate what snippets you can copy, when, and for what purpose.
The DVB has been working on new digital restrictions management called Content Protection and Copy Management (CPCM) chiefly aimed at satisfying American corporate content producers. These DRM features include:
- Enforcing severe home recording and copying limitations. CPCM will allow content providers to apply copy restriction labels to broadcast streams. For example, a program could be marked as “Copy Never.” In turn, your DVRs and others devices receiving the signal will have to obey and forbid copying even for home use. A content provider could opt to allow recording but still enforce a multitude of restrictions on copying to other devices.
- Imposing controls on where you watch a program. Even if you are given permission to move a program to your laptop or other portable devices, “geography controls” may kick in and stop playback once you leave home or a particular locale. These restrictions may be enforced using tamper-proof GPS receivers built in to your devices. CPCM can also be used to block sending video to yourself over your own home network or the Internet, among other things.
- Dictating how you get to share shows with your own family. CPCM can be used to examine, for instance, the frequency with which devices are connected to a personal network and determine whether your sharing is within an “Authorized Domain” Absurdly, DVB spent significant time arguing over what happens to a digital video in case of a divorce!
- Breaking compatibility with your devices. You may have already invested in new high definition displays and receivers that rely on component analog connections or unrestricted digital outputs, but CPCM will allow the studios to arbitrarily block these connections. In other words, individual copyright holders can turn your gadgets into oversized paperweights. CPCM- restricted media will also be able to carry blacklists and revoke compatibility with particular devices that don’t enforce Hollywood’s restrictions sufficiently.