FCC Wants Ebay, Amazon To Crack Down On Kodi-Based Pirate TV Boxes
from the control,-not-copyright dept
For years now, tinkerers everywhere have built custom-made PCs that use the open-source Kodi platform. Highly flexible and customizable, this hardware can often work notably better than the locked-down TV hardware (especially traditional cable boxes) that are the norm. But the hardware can also be used to streamline access to copyright content. And in more recent years, outfits like Dragonbox or SetTV have taken things further by selling users tailor-made hardware that provides easy access to live copyrighted content.
Not too surprisingly, video producers and broadcasters haven’t much liked this. And in recent months, Amazon and Netflix have joined forces with Hollywood to try and sue many of these operations out of existence. Last week they got a little help from FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who fired off a letter to both Amazon and Ebay demanding they do more to combat the listing of these devices on their respective websites. O’Rielly was quick to acknowledge that the FCC’s authority over copyright is negligible, so he focused instead on these companies’ unauthorized use of the FCC logo:
“Disturbingly, some rogue set?top box manufacturers and distributors are exploiting the FCC’s trusted logo by fraudulently placing it on devices that have not been approved via the Commission’s equipment authorization process. Specifically, nine set-top box distributors were referred to the FCC in October for enabling the unlawful streaming of copyrighted material, seven of which displayed the FCC logo, although there was no record of such compliance. Many of these sellers are attempting to distribute their non-compliant products through online marketplaces such as yours. Although outside the jurisdiction of the Commission, it is equally troubling that many of these devices are being used to illegally stream copyrighted content, exacerbating the theft of billions of dollars in American innovation and creativity.
And that’s all well and good. Companies like DragonBox are dressing up piracy as a legitimate service while illegally using the FCC logo. Both Amazon and Ebay responded to O’Rielly noting they already have numerous systems in place to prohibit the sale of such devices, and were open to working with the FCC to police future sales.
That said, O’Rielly fails to mention that he’s historically supported policies at the FCC that make this whole problem worse than it needs to be.
Again, Kodi itself is perfectly legal. And even in the case of more ethically-dubious services, users are flocking to them because they find traditional video services and hardware to be locked down, inflexible, and expensive. Much of that has to do with obnoxious DRM that more often than not makes the viewing experience annoying as hell. And a lot of it has to do with the cable industry’s monopoly control over the cable box, which prevents the entire ecosystem from being as open and competitive as it should be.
And O’Rielly himself played a pretty major role in that.
Last year, O’Rielly helped the cable & broadcast industry crush a plan to bring much-needed openness and competition to the cable box. That plan, developed under the Wheeler FCC, would have let consumers access all cable TV content entirely via app, eliminating the traditional cable box and opening up competition on the streaming hardware front. But thanks to an absolutely massive disinformation effort by the cable industry, the plan was killed. Among other things, the cable sector tried to claim that added TV hardware competition would have stifled innovation, encouraged piracy, and even harmed minorities.
None of it was true, but it was repeated ad nauseum in countless editorials nationwide that failed to disclose the authors’ ties to the cable sector. The industry even managed to get the Copyright Office to join the fun by claiming that this added competition would somehow violate copyright.
It was another perfect example of how the definition of copyright is routinely abused, and these issues often have to do more with control than copyright. And while it’s great that O’Rielly decided to lend a hand here, it might be cool if he realized how his own anti-innovation policies at Trump’s FCC have helped make this problem of his immeasurably worse. If traditional video markets were cheaper, more open, customizable and flexible, these kinds of alternatives wouldn’t be nearly as popular in the first place because consumers would already be getting what they’re looking for.