Making Mobile Video Streaming Better By Operating In The 'Unused Spectrum' Of Copyright Law

from the they're-right!-IP-law-DOES-promote-innovation! dept

The streaming video experience on many mobile phone networks frequently flat out sucks. A YouTube video that would never trouble your home wi-fi connection sputters to a near halt before dividing its time between buffering and coughing up bursts of unsynched video and sound. And while having Netflix available on your phone seems to be a technological marvel, it’s pretty useless in the wild. Plus, many phone data plans have been capped at very low levels, making streaming a full movie potentially very expensive.

Thanks to the entertainment industry, you can’t even temporarily download a streamed movie to watch it later in order to bypass lousy connection speeds or data overages. This includes streaming services where the buffet pricing allows you to watch the same movie dozens of times consecutively, if that’s your thing. A buffered copy is an infringing copy (in their eyes, but not a key court’s), even if the temporary file deletes itself after consumption. The entities behind the TPP push are still hoping to subject buffered copies to licensing, even though the key Cablevision ruling in the 2nd Circuit said that such copies are not infringing.

As it stands now, the entertainment industry is unable to set up its toll booth on buffer copies, but that hasn’t stopped it from trying. Between the ongoing push for buffer licenses and differing IP laws in various countries, providers of streaming services have played it safe by not offering a “download and view later” option. Even a self-deleting, single use file would be considered a violation of copyright law.

Fortunately, Dr. Shivendra S. Panwar has devised a workaround process that should satisfy both rights holders and mobile users.

Streamloading is Dr. Panwar’s term for his new fusion of streaming and downloading. He hopes it will help wireless carriers get more mileage out of their bandwidth, while also helping data consumers watch more videos on the go.

The technology works by bisecting video into two layers. First is a base layer, which streams during viewing, then there would be a higher layer, which the user would pre-download from some high-bandwidth location like the home or office. While the higher layer would be useless on its own, and thus in compliance with intellectual property laws whose aim is to prevent free sharing, it would nonetheless comprise about 3/4ths of the total data.

Because the streamed base layer would be necessary to unlock the viewing experience while still constituting only about 1/4th of the data, effective and lawful streaming on the go would require fairly low bandwidths. The low bandwidth required to stream the content would mean that data-heavy movies and TV shows would be watchable on your phone even in zones of spotty coverage.

It seems to be a rather elegant solution and one that you would hope would satisfy rights holders. Of course, we’ve seen the entertainment industry throw the brakes on other technological advancements, especially if it sees the new innovation to be potentially pirateable and short a toll booth or two. See also the ongoing Aereo battle, in which TV broadcasters have claimed the very inelegant process deployed by Aereo (in order to comply with every possibly applicable section of copyright law) is actually evidence that Aereo’s service is infringing. Checking and double-checking your processes against IP law only gets you so far. After that, you’re subject to the entertainment industry’s version of the “heckler’s veto.”

Panwar has high hopes for this process, which would operate in an area still untested by copyright law. It looks like a win for consumers and possibly even streaming services, but I’m not sure wireless providers will like it as much as Panwar believes they will.

I see this as a triple win scenario. Carriers are facing a bandwidth crunch. The 4G LTE systems are not keeping up with demand for data. AT&T has said publicly that they might run out of capacity this year. A crude way for them to control demand is to raise data charges, which would drive away customers. Anything delivering quality data at a lower cost is good for the carriers. That’s the first win.

Carriers may talk a lot about “bandwidth crunches” and “data hogs,” but it’s all just a sales pitch with slightly apocalyptic undertones (“running out of capacity;” “stressing our infrastructure”) designed to keep customers strapped into low limit data plans with high overage fees. It’s been basically a way to print money from day one. Finding a way to move less data over their networks will make you a friend of the people, but wireless providers’ reactions will range from indifferent to antagonistic as a more efficient process cuts into their cash cows. About the only way to sell them on this is to tie the delivery system exclusively to one of their favored, net-neutrality-violating services and portals so they can deliver “preferred” data without further taxing their undertaxed infrastructure. “Delivering data at a lower cost” has been going on for years, even as service prices continue to increase.

Other than that, the process looks like it could make mobile video streaming a rather enjoyable experience, rather than a tedious near-slideshow that sucks for everyone involved but your wireless provider.

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Comments on “Making Mobile Video Streaming Better By Operating In The 'Unused Spectrum' Of Copyright Law”

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29 Comments
cpt kangarooski says:

Seems dubious

If I copied 3/4ths of a movie, I suspect I still might get in trouble for infringing. It’s well-known that infringing doesn’t require perfect or complete copying; otherwise pirates would just leave out one second or one word and get away with it. And if multiple pirates copied different fractional portions, they could be recombined fairly trivially to get the whole work. (Think of how Bit Torrent works)

All told it feels risky to me.

Anonymous Cowshit (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seems dubious

Agreed, that is the principle behind it.

That may not be legal with one provider, but if:
— provider A contributed a usable layer 1 and an unusable layer 2, while
— provider B provided a unusable layer 1 and a usable layer 2
then both providers would be compliant, and yet copyright could be infringed.

Tubal (profile) says:

First, the Cablevision ruling in the 2nd Circuit did NOT say that buffer copies are not infringing. Instead, it said that the specific buffer copies at issue, which comprised “no more than than 1.2 seconds of programming [audio visual works of significant length] at any time” were not infringing.
The Cablevision ruling on this issue was very fact specific and the court specifically did not address larger longer lasting buffer copies, stating that “other factors not present here may alter the duration analysis significantly.”

Second, while one may congratulate Dr. Shivendra S. Panwar on his articulation of the idea that he refers to as Streamloading, it does not seem to be a terribly new idea. It sounds a lot like a variation of the notion of “locked content” of the sort cited to in Footnote 13 the following Copyright Office rulemaking, which states:
“The Office understands that there may be other
so?called ??locked content?? models which may
involve the initial distribution of significant
quantities of data to a recipient, yet such data may
not satisfy the statutory requirements to be
considered a phonorecord until subsequent
distribution of the remaining essential data. In such
cases, there would be no DPD until all of the
required data has been delivered.”
http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2008/73fr40802.pdf

Dr. Shivendra S. Panwar’s questionable claims about discovering the idea that he refers to as Streamloading do not undercut the concerpt’s legitimacy. It does appear that deliveries of such locked content, AKA Streamloading, that do not result in perceptible copies (of any portion of the work in question) until delivery of remaining essential data, would not be considered infringing reproductions of copies under current law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: But...?

Because when it comes to digital anything rights holders hold some kind of quantum superposition where digital can occupy all states they want it to simultaneously. Whenever they need a ruling in their favor they just measure the one state that’s most beneficial in that particular case.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: But...?

Sadly this is indeed true – copyright is indeed the “cake and eat it, oh and everyone else’s cake too” law. Of course the ones primarily benefiting are also the ones bri – uh, “making substantial contributions” to political campaigns so even such obvious stupidity is unlikely to get fixed anytime soon. Reality (other than possibly at the quantum level) is not a high priority for applying copyright law.

Anonymous Coward says:

if the entertainment industries are not going to be the ones controlling it, are not going to be able to make a fortune from it and Congress can be lobbied so as to put a blanket block on it, regardless of whether it’s deemed a legal service or not, it will fail. those industries want to keep the world and it’s viewing experiences/options back in the stone age as far as modern technology is concerned and will do anything it can to achieve that. the biggest fly in the ointment is Congress. stop them from being bribed to help the industries instead of helping everyone else and there is a chance

Androgynous Cowherd says:

There are two problems with this scheme.

1: It’s not (legally) going to work. The downloaded part will clearly, under the law, be considered a derivative work of the original, even if not a straight copy. They’ve used this to shut down alternate subtitle tracks, for heaven’s sake.

2: It’s DRM, which means it will be broken almost immediately. In fact, the obvious way to implement such a scheme is for the “download” to be the movie with fixed-length blocks encrypted with a sequence of keys, and the “stream” to be the keys for decrypting successive blocks. Someone will, of course, find a way to capture and keep the keys. Although it’s not like the high-def brrip .mkv wouldn’t already be out there anyway, regardless.

Anonymous Coward says:

A workaround process that should satisfy rights holders? Fat chance. These are the same rights holders that have argued in the past that a technological method to route around the damage of copyright law that is specifically designed and implemented to comport with the bounds of copyright law as defined by statue and precedent was evidence of infringement (see: Aero).

Nick (profile) says:

I think I have a FANTASTIC idea on how to reduce data streaming use: STOP REQUIRING DATA PLANS FOR SMART PHONES. If you require data plans, then people such as me that never planned to use it will…. USE THE DATA PLAN. They will then add to your traffic, which you yourself are complaining you are running out of. And I am forced to pay out the ass for a service I didn’t want in the first place, and only had to get since I changed my phone from one where texting involved using a phone dial pad to an iphone’s touch-screen (much faster natural typing).

win-win for both of us.

Mike Raffety (profile) says:

3/4 useless?

“The technology works by bisecting video into two layers. First is a base layer, which streams during viewing, then there would be a higher layer, which the user would pre-download from some high-bandwidth location like the home or office. While the higher layer would be useless on its own, and thus in compliance with intellectual property laws whose aim is to prevent free sharing, it would nonetheless comprise about 3/4ths of the total data.”

Hmm, let’s take this a bit further. How about we reduce that 1/4 required to work to, say, 2048 bits, an encryption key? How is this different?

And what’s to keep a jailbroken device from saving that 1/4 live stream anyway, so the entire video could be viewed as desired, off-line?

raindog469 (profile) says:

Genius!

All the convenience of having to know in advance what you’ll want to watch and download a big file at home, plus all the flexibility of needing to be connected to a network to watch it! Why on earth would someone ever download a torrent now?

Oh yeah, when they’re planning to be up in the woods, or in an airplane, or want to watch something Netflix (or whatever) doesn’t have, or when they don’t feel like filling half of their phone’s storage with useless-by-design data, or….

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