Copyright Alliance Begs Supreme Court To Make Remote DVRs Illegal

from the we-prefer-our-screwed-up-copyright-laws dept

You may recall that the Copyright Alliance is a group that is basically the personal vehicle of Patrick Ross, a copyright maximalist, who has been known to twist copyright law to ridiculous extremes on a regular basis. He's the guy who has claimed that fair use harms innovation, that government-backed monopolies in copyright represent a free market and any attempt to actually free up the market and remove government backed monopolies would be unnecessary regulation that would result in market failure. Ross also sent all of the presidential candidates one of the most ridiculous surveys ever on their views on copyright, that was written in an extremely leading "and when did you stop beating your wife" style.

With such extreme and twisted views, it's no surprise that Ross has lined up a bunch of big entertainment companies to back him as he goes around trying to convince politicians that day is night and up is down when it comes to copyright -- but now he's moved on to trying to convince the Supreme Court as well. As you may recall, back in August there was an extremely important Appeals Court ruling that noted that Cablevision's remote DVR setup did not infringe on copyrights. The ruling pointed out the rather obvious troubles that would occur if we interpreted copyright laws the way copyright holders wanted to. It's clear that DVRs, like TiVo, are perfectly legal in the home. Time shifting shows has been found, quite clearly, to be legal. Cablevision's remote DVR is effectively the same exact thing. The only difference is that the DVR is stored at Cablevision data center, rather than at someone's home. The ruling, quite clearly, demonstrated how twisted copyright law has become, as it is patched up each time some new technology comes along.

The importance of this ruling cannot be understated, however, as it will enable many important online services that will be tremendously useful. Needless to say, copyright maximalists in the entertainment industry don't like that. They prefer the way things used to be, and want the law to force the market never to change. So, before the Supreme Court has even decided whether or not to hear the appeal on the case, Ross's Copyright Alliance has already begged the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling -- the first time the Alliance has become involved in any lawsuit. The amicus brief itself, basically uses Ross's typical logic: copyright is good, therefore, making companies pay multiple times for different types of licenses to use content in more ways must be even better!

Hopefully, the court recognizes the logical fallacies in the filing. Preventing this service will not help anyone. The entertainment industry that Ross claims to represent thinks that this will get companies like Cablevision to pay them yet again for content it already licensed. But, the reality is that they'll just move on. People will instead keep buying TiVos or home DVRs, and the potential for truly new and unique services that make the entertainment company's content even more valuable will be greatly diminished. Ross and the content companies falsely believe that the old model is the best, and that content should be paid for again and again, every time it's accessed. Basic economics tells you that this is wrong, and that protectionist policies -- such as what Ross champions -- only shrinks markets and hurts just about everyone.
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Filed Under: copyright, copyright alliance, patrick ross, remote dvrs, supreme court
Companies: cablevision


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2008 @ 11:52am

    Finite bandwidth resources of a cable system

    Mike,
    It's difficult to follow the point your trying to make, be it business, technology or policy, so I will just provide some observations to the DVR hyperbole.

    It seems that this is a Business problem more than a technology problem. TiVo owns a swath of patents, and it seems like the cableco didn't want to license.

    A decade ago, this stage was set- I remember TiVo looking for investors on late night infomercials, and was awestruck with how it was going to change the industry. But I also prophesied something else-- How many companies TiVo went to within the entertainment and broadcasting industries before they had to start making the pitch for investors on late night TV.

    It helped to generate some theories about how the concept of decentralized video would re-create the industry and create new opportunities.

    When we dive into remote DVR, from a technical standpoint, many questions come to the surface: How many simultaneous DVR streams can be pushed through a cable head end? A couple thousand? Does that mean there's only the equivalent of a couple thousand simultaneous TV watchers on a node? If there's an average of 3 TVs in a house, does that mean peak usage will allow for only 700 real-time residences on a node?

    Remote DVR Concept accomplishes similar functionality in the near term, but should the service take off, customers may start receiving a "Buffering" message onscreen, or only being able to view their show in Standard Def, (not HD, due to bandwidth consumption of HD programming), or receipt of content occurring during off-peak times. Some concessions would have to be made so the company can service all customers on that node, which deviates from the original functionality.

    So yes, it doesn't violate patents, but it presents new technical challenges, which may lead to the focus of new Government Policy regarding Copyright and patent (I'm taking a stab in the dark with this one.)

    Consider an experiment in New York City, where Cablevision is based. The company could conceivably have a thousand subscribers in one building. So to address this, a data center may be necessary on a block-by block or even building-by-building basis, just for TV Programming. What about the lucrative cable modem business? Will that suffer bandwidth re-prioritization? In all, there's some real technological challenges to how a Remote DVR concept would scale without massive infrastructure investment, but I could be completely wrong.

    But precedent has been set, and customers are demanding DVR capability, so the industry choose Plan B. The end result is dubious, especially when the operational costs could have just skyrocketed.

    But in the future (think 20 years), the best system would probably be a hybird, Think something like SatTV-grade bandwidth TiVo for broadcast, and access to NetFlix over FiOS. If correct, a company like AT&T may have the best long-term strategy for the top 100 MTAs.

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