Cable Industry's False Copyright Claims Are Killing Cable Box Reform Efforts

from the disinformation-nation dept

In the quest to stop the FCC from bringing competition to the set top box, the cable industry has trotted out all manner of misleading arguments, most of which have been pushed in editorials in newspapers nationwide without highlighting author ties to the sector. Some of them have tried to pretend that cable box competition will create a piracy apocalypse. Others have tried to somehow argue that better, cheaper hardware and choices will somehow harm minority communities. Most of those are just flimsy attempts to try and keep the FCC from cracking open a $21 billion monopoly on cable box rental fees.

Fearing their own loss of control, the entertainment industry has joined the cable sector in also claiming new cable box rules will somehow violate copyright law. Under the FCC's original proposal (pdf), the agency simply states that existing cable content must be delivered to third-party hardware using the copy protection of the industry's choice. Nothing in the rules will change that, or magically give third-party vendors the right to violate copyright. Still, opponents of the rules have consistently tried to claim the rules are some kind of cabal by Google to freeload off of and repackage "their innovation."

A recent filing by the cable industry's biggest lobbying organization (pdf), the NCTA, put it this way:
"The proposed approach would circumvent the MVPD’s (read: cable company's) technological protection measures and license restrictions, with no enforceable means to prevent streaming that movie outside the home, in clear violation of the license to the MVPD, and the content owner’s copyright."
Except if you actually read the proposal (which hasn't even been fully cooked yet), it does nothing of the sort, and the FCC time and time and time again has stated whatever rules are passed will adhere to existing copyright (probably to a fault, if history's any indication). As the EFF noted a few months ago, claims that set top box competition will violate copyright is simply a head fake -- where the very definition of copyright has been mangled and distorted to fight off efforts to open technology up for user benefit. Put simply, copyright doesn't really apply to the improvements the FCC wants to make to your cable TV viewing experience:
"Copyright is only an exclusive right to copy creative work (and to distribute, publicly perform, and adapt it). Copyright has important limitations, including fair use. Copyright doesn’t give rightsholders the ability to stop others from “monetizing” (double ugh) or even “exploiting” creative work unless one of the specific rights laid out in the law is violated. TV and home stereo manufacturers, used DVD sellers, and popcorn growers all “monetize” and profit from the creative works of others without asking permission or paying royalties. Last year, a federal court ruled that copyright doesn’t stop Dish Networks from offering a DVR that can skip commercials automatically. And no one has to pay extra for a mute button that works during commercial breaks (yet).
Real set top box competition would not only demolish $21 billion in captive revenues, it would dismantle a walled garden under construction for a generation. Set top box competition would result in more open boxes more inclined to show users alternative, niche options outside of the traditional cable and broadcast wheelhouse. Worse, it would give the consumer more control than ever before in terms of how content and media is consumed, bringing the cable box more in line with open platforms like the PC. How terrifying. The EFF continues:
"...Since competition would mean lower prices and more choice for customers, and less control and profits for the monopolists, they would rather keep the conversation on their made-up version of copyright law. Consumers are not fooled. Consumers recognize that the cable set-top box market has been a long, frustrating experience where they have little choice and have witnessed even less innovation. Consumers know they are being ripped off by the current marketplace ($230 per consumer totaling $20 billion in rental fees each year) because they don't have an easy way to just own their box like they do with computers, cable modems, smart phones, tablets, and other electronic devices."
Understanding that copyright is a straw man in this conversation about monopoly hardware control makes some of the waffling we've been seeing at the FCC on the proposal all the more frustrating. It's waffling only made possible by the literal army of broadcast, cable and entertainment industry lobbyists busy "educating" politicians on their mangled definition of copyright, and how these systems actually work. And as a Washington Post article detailed last week, this lobbying campaign appears to be working:
"My office has met with the Copyright Office, and I know that the Copyright Office has expressed concern about just what you described," Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told House lawmakers Tuesday. "So I think more work is necessary on our part." Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday that she's heard from the Copyright Office, too, on the same issue. Another Democrat on the commission, Mignon Clyburn, said copyright protections "must be in place" in any final rule, but stopped short of saying the FCC's initial plan had problems."
The furrowed brows of worry over entirely artificial copyright concerns don't bode well for the FCC's proposal. In the post truth era, repetition (not truth) dictates reality, and it's becoming abundantly clear that the cable and entertainment sector's misinformation efforts are paying dividends and stalling the effort. Again, that's not the end of the world as the FCC may find it more effective to focus on the biggest problem in the streaming age (the lack of broadband competition and usage caps), but it's still frustrating to see how effective these kinds of coordinated campaigns continue to be in the campaign-contribution-soaked nation's capital.

Filed Under: competition, copyright, fcc, innovation, set top boxes


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 6:43am

    When it is profitable to lie...

    The truth is no longer needed or desired.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 19 Jul 2016 @ 6:45am

    They can't even see that opening up set-top boxes could potentially save the cable industry from the inevitable cord-cutting apocalypse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      They're desperate to not become just providers of "dumb pipes" through which all the stuff you do watch and use flows.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:14am

      Re:

      There won't be a cord cutting collapse. At least in the US your cable provider and internet access provider are often the same and there are enough barriers to entry that you won't see any new players in the industry. When cord cutting really starts to hurt the bottom line they will just raise the price of internet access to the same price you pay now and offer a "discount" for cable and set box rental. If that doesn't work they will use onerous usage caps & overage fees.

      No matter what you do you are going to be paying Warner/Comcast/Verizon/AT&T $200-300 a month unless you want to live w/o internet. They have enough money and lawyers that they are going to get their pound of flesh from you no matter what.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:32am

        Re: Re:

        Agreed. They are a bunch of low life scumbag crooks no better than the IP shills that troll here or the pro IP industry that's responsible for our incredibly corrupt IP laws.

        We should not tolerate this nonsense.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Corey, 20 Jul 2016 @ 6:43am

        Re: Re:

        my Idea of cord cutting, is when there is no alternative. And your so fed up, with the service, that you say. "I am sick and tired of this abuse, no more" thus cutting the cord.

        I have truly cut the cord, No cable, nor netflix, or other related services.

        I watch free DVD through the library.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Joe, 20 Jul 2016 @ 11:41am

        Re: Re:

        Irony, is that Comcast themselves provide a loophole. But best not to expose it until wireless prices collapse.

        You'd be stupid to pay $100 a month for capped Internet service, and not consider more advanced methods like a mesh network for local servers, BTW. I can't wait until FCC goes out looking for "pirate servers" the way they do radios.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous me, 19 Jul 2016 @ 6:57am

    Cable's still a thing?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      Yeah, cable is still a thing. However, we dumped cable and went internet only last week. A HUGE part of our cable bill, to the tune of more than $40 per month, was our equipment rental fees. Yep, more than $480 per year. Screw that, and screw them. We no longer pay Concast (the mis-spelling is deliberate) ANY equipment fees. They did try to talk us into an allegedly "better" modem. Hah! We have the best modem you can purchase at Best Buy, and it has already paid for itself in avoidance of equipment fees.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2016 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re:

        When my cable bill went up $50 a month because I had a promotion price that expired the cable company (Cox or Cocks as they should be called) would not do anything for me. I had been a cable customer with them for over a decade. I offered to enter into a new contract and they refused. That's only for new customers. As soon as I cut cable and went streaming only saving me $150 a month now they send me me all kinds of come back offers. It's been a year and I don't regret it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 19 Jul 2016 @ 10:23am

      Cable set top boxes are IRRELEVANT

      I don't care what kind of cable set top box they offer from the previous millennium.

      Even if their set top box was designed in THIS millennium, it no longer matters.

      It's like asking me if I would like to have telegraph service installed in my home.

      Uh, . . . thinking . . . thinking . . . No thanks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pegr, 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:14am

    The real issue

    Of course, the cable industry is suspicious of a set top box they don't control. The whole idea of copy protection in this context is logically invalid. Let's consider the problem like any other encryption problem.


    Alice encrypts her message to Bob to keep it safe from Charles. With copy protection (a.k.a. Digital Rights Management), Bob and Charles are the same person!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Jul 2016 @ 7:22am

    Part of me says they wouldn't need these 21 billion if they didn't spend so much money buying politicians and these fake groups and editorials...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 19 Jul 2016 @ 10:02am

    In the post truth era, repetition (not truth) dictates reality...

    The FCC needs to start usuing this tactic then. Put out a statement that renting cable boxes causes children to die in Asia, then just keep repeating it until it becomes "reality".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 19 Jul 2016 @ 1:35pm

    Technology has rendered this whole discussion moot. I don't know many people who still have a cable box. All the cable industry is doing is hastening their own demise. I won't personally miss them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joe, 20 Jul 2016 @ 11:36am

    Circumvention

    "The proposed approach would circumvent the MVPD’s (read: cable company's) technological protection measures and license restrictions, with no enforceable means to prevent streaming that movie outside the home, in clear violation of the license to the MVPD, and the content owner’s copyright."
    Wouldn't this apply to a HDMI stripper and DVR? Shark jumped, cablecards? At least a 3rd party set top box would not be THAT open. We're so used to having smoke blown up our rears by these folks, that you'll have to excuse us for being cynical!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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