Amazon, Cable Industry Molest The Definition Of Copyright In Ongoing Scuff Up Over Cable Box Reform

from the copyright-is-whatever-I-say-it-is dept

Last week we noted how copyright has once again become a straw man, this time as part of an attempt to kill the FCC's plan to bring competition to the cable box. Under the FCC's plan, cable providers would have to provide their programming to third-party hardware vendors -- using any copy protection of their choice -- without forcing consumers to pay for a CableCARD. The plan has little to actually do with copyright, but cable providers have tried to scuttle the effort by trying to claim more cable box competition will magically result in a piracy apocalypse (stop me if you've heard this sort of thing before somewhere).

The cable industry's attack on the FCC's plan has been threefold: hire sock puppets to make violently misleading claims in newspapers and websites nationwide; push industry-loyal politicians (who have no real clue what the plan does) to derail the plan publicly as the worst sort of villainy, and present a counter proposal packed with caveats that makes it all but useless. This counter proposal involves the cable industry delivering its programming via apps (much like it already does), but forces consumers to continue renting a cable box if they want to record programs via DVR.

Given the cable industry's plan is little more than a press release, that's only the caveat we know of. But anybody thinking the cable industry's going to just give up $21 billion in set top rental fees and their walled garden control over the user experience is utterly adorable.

Numerous companies with feet in both streaming hardware and TV (Google, Amazon, TiVO) obviously support the FCC's original proposal. A regulatory filing from Amazon back in April (pdf) applauded the FCC's plan, and while it raised some questions about copyright and copy protection, it also argued that most of the modern protection systems already at play on streaming hardware should be more than effective at protecting programming:
"Amazon Fire TV 4K, nVidia Shield TV, Roku4, and numerous televisions from Sony, Vizio, and other manufacturers are already trusted by movie studios to deliver high-quality ultra HD movies with theater quality sound. These devices use hardware protections that assure that content delivered to these devices can only be decrypted and played back by devices authorized to play back that content. Furthermore, the technological solutions that exist today are much more advanced and robust than they were even when CableCARD was created. As the proliferation and success of OTT services (including those offered by Amazon) demonstrate, modern content protection technologies are both in use today and highly effective."
Given the fact that most DRM is almost always bypassed and generally only succeeds at making the end-user experience difficult and annoying, that's debatable. Still, it should again be noted that copyright itself isn't really the issue here. As the EFF rather eloquently noted back in April, this fight is about control of the end-user experience and, for cable, protecting cable box rental revenue and keeping its customers firmly ensconced within the traditional cable walled garden.

That said, it's interesting to watch how the nebulous term "copyright" morphs and shifts meaning as both sides try to use the concept as a malleable weapon. For example the Washington Post this week pointed to a another Amazon filing with the FCC (pdf) in which Amazon complains that it's the cable industry's app-based "compromise" solution that violates copyright and would be a piracy nightmare (despite cable delivering current content via apps with no problem):
"The parties also discussed the recent submission from NCTA of an alternative method using an app-based approach. The Amazon representatives said that it was hard to comment specifically on the short submission since it lacked important details. However, some aspects of it warrant attention. The Amazon representatives stressed that hardware-based digital rights management (“DRM”) is the gold standard for content protection. A native application has no impact on the robustness of properly implemented hardware-based DRM with regards to content security. Thus, the NCTA submission does not in fact address the security concerns MVPDs have identified as one of the central reasons to oppose the proposals set forth in the NPRM.
In short, the cable industry says it can't possibly support real cable box competition because... copyright! Amazon argues this is nonsense, but in its own way is perpetuating the straw man by claiming that only a hardware-based solution will work because... copyright! As we noted last week the very definition of copyright is being molested for argument's sake; a giant ugly red herring distracting observers from the fact that this is about control, not copyright. And obviously if you've used Amazon's own locked down, walled-garden products, the negative impact of DRM is very often a distant afterthought -- not entirely unlike traditional cable.

It should be noted that the Amazon-owned Washington Post first gives way too much credence to these copyright claims, then mistakenly tells readers that the FCC's proposal and the cable industry's proposal are effectively the same thing, both efforts ultimately saving consumers money:
"Critics say requiring companies such as Comcast to make their TV content freely available to any other box maker poses copyright risks, raising the possibility of theft by content pirates. Both the FCC approach and the cable industry proposal could reduce the cost of renting set-top boxes — in some cases, by potentially eliminating the need for them altogether.
Well, no. The FCC's effort is a well-intentioned (though possibly doomed) attempt to bring real competition to the cable box, driving down costs for consumers. The cable industry's counter-proposal is a page of ambiguous promises with the clear intent of delivering programming via app, but forcing users to either still rent a cable box -- or pay their cable provider a premium if they want to record and store content (either on physical DVR or cloud-based DVR system). One effort is trying desperately to make the cable box more open and PC like, the other is a show pony designed to retain control in the face of evolution.
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Filed Under: apps, competition, copyright, fcc, set top boxes
Companies: amazon, comcast


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  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 22 Jul 2016 @ 8:59am

    They are still trying to further re-write the age of dumb throughput and VCRs. We already lost that. Now they want to make it worse in 10 different ways.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 22 Jul 2016 @ 9:20am

    I can't remember...

    ...when the law changed and it became illegal to record whatever was on your TV. I know Big Content doesn't like it and does what it can to prevent recording (DRM, etc.) but when did it become illegal?

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

  • identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, 22 Jul 2016 @ 9:22am

    The rental fees don't matter. Really. It's more about cord cutting.

    This has NOTHING to do with the $21B in set top rental fees, because the FCC proposal won't stop the cable industry from collecting that particular toll. They can simply make a new DRM scheme that's only minimally different from what's already out there, and then charge an arm and a leg to hardware manufacturers who wish to license the "new" DRM. It just shifts how you pay the costs so that the money is laundered through the hardware companies first. Easy.

    This is ENTIRELY about control. The cable industry is afraid the FCC proposal will cede enough control to the hardware vendors that cable programming competes more directly with internet-based content, such that the cable services become irrelevant. It'll be that much more obvious how ridiculously over-priced they are, and they'll lose revenue from consumers who opt away from cable entirely, both directly from subscriptions and indirectly when they lose the eyeballs to sell to advertisers. The cable industry is much afraid this will hasten the cord-cutting phenomenon than they are worried about set top box revenue. Or, at least they should be.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 22 Jul 2016 @ 9:38am

    Karl, I have read the first paragraph, and I do indeed, need to stop you right there.

    Mr Jack Valenti before US Congress, 1982


    Mr. VALENTI. And 6 out of 10 films do not retrieve their total investment period. Now, what are you going to do right on top of that? There is going to be a VCR avalanche. Exports of VCR's from Japan totaled 2.57 million units in 1981. No. 2, the United States is the biggest market. No. 3, February 1982, which is the latest data, shows the imports to the United States are up 57 percent over 1981. This is more than a tidal wave. It is more than an avalanche. It is here.

    Now, that is where the problem is. You take the high risk, which means we must go by the aftermarkets to recoup our investments. If those aftermarkets are decimated, shrunken, collapsed because of what I am going to be explaining to you in a minute, because of the fact that the VCR is stripping those things clean, those markets clean of our profit potential, you are going to have devastation in this marketplace.

    Now, is this all? Is it going to get any bigger? Well, I assure you it is. Here is the weekly Variety, Wednesday, March 10. Head1ine, "Sony Sees $400 Billion Global Electronics Business by the Decade's End," $400 billion by the decade's end. In 1981, Mr. Chairman, this United States had a $5.3 billion trade deficit with Japan on electronic equipment alone. We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine.

    Now, the question comes, well, all right, what is wrong with the VCR. One of the Japanese lobbyists, Mr. Ferris, has said that the VCR -- well, if I am saying something wrong, forgive me. I don't know. He certainly is not MGM's lobbyist. That is for sure. He has said that the VCR is the greatest friend that the American film producer ever had.

    I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.


    To put it simply, the MPAA survived the zombie vcr apocalypse, the cable industry can survive this.....

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 10:13am

    Contact all lawmakers

    In addition to contacting politicians we should also contact our corporate lawmakers (Disney, Comcast, Time Warner, the RIAA/MPAA, etc...) to contribute our input on the matter.

    I know most people here are sinister and think that these corporations will simply ignore us but if enough people bombard them with enough messages on the subject I think they will pay some attention. Spreading our message to all lawmakers, including the corporate ones, I think is a good move.

    Ways to contact them include calling their help line. This does not mean any one person should call 20 times a day (they may consider this a hostile DDOS). No, one person could call, say, once every few months or whenever you have something else you do need to call them about. If enough people call word will get buzzing within the corporations (and, on the extreme note that some may consider here, they can't jail or prosecute everyone for contributing their opinion if there are way way way too many of us each only slightly and politely distributing our message on an individual scale). Speak to the employee there and just quickly mention your thoughts on these matter before going into the reason for your call. If enough people mention this it will start to penetrate these corporations just a little bit internally.

    After all the corporations spread their messages as wide as possible. They are smart. They fund campaign ads, political commercials, propaganda in movies and television shows, etc... They lobby politicians and they attempt to spread their message to the public. The problem is that we only focus on the politicians, regulators, law makers, and spreading the message to other citizens and ignore more directly telling the very corporations responsible for contributing so much to our laws what we think assuming they will just ignore us. But I think that's a mistake. Spreading our message as widely as possible to anyone involved in decision making (your friends as potential voters, protesters, and message spreaders, local, state, and federal politicians as legislators, regulators as legislators and enforcers, even law enforcement, and corporations as lobbyists, campaign funders and propaganda spreaders) can be beneficial. Corporations try to spread their message to us, why shouldn't we try to spread our message to them. It should be a dialog, not a monologue, and so we should talk back.

    and people must realize that corporations aren't these uniform monolithic entities composed of a single decision maker that takes no input from anyone else. Like a country a corporation is a dynamic of individuals. If a country is divided amongst itself it will be less likely to succeed in a war with another country. Morale comes from within and many wars are lost due to a loss of internal morale which prevents the country from coordinating its efforts. Spread your message to the employees within the corporations as well whenever you can. If enough people contribute their input this will get employees talking and eventually higher manager will get the message from their employees (and from the public telling them directly).

    Don't take this to the extreme case to mean that employees will quit or get fired. The fact is good employees are hard to replace so corporations don't want to fire them and if they do they will then have to go through the expensive process of replacing them which is costly and risky as the replacement might not be as good and hence less profitable. Likewise if a good employee quits. Might be more affordable to change their practices in accordance with public pressure. But on a less extreme and more likely possibility employees are more productive if they believe in what they're doing. Spreading the message to all employees, lower management, and eventually upper management will begin to help influence how the corporation as a whole thinks and its employees as individual parts interact with the public and perceives itself and how it is perceived. This will begin to penetrate how the corporation as a whole acts. The problem is that working for a corporation is so impersonal, if the corporation does something wrong it's not reflected on each employee there because, for the most part, they don't have to hear about it from the public individually. Well, perhaps we should start changing that.

    This war on corporations and their disproportional influence on government needs to be won on all fronts and ignoring corporations as a front to contribute public input is not an option. After all corporations fight this war on all fronts and so should we.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 10:28am

    Re: control of the end-user experience

    Bulls eye.

    A citizen can no more license a telecom to effect abusive trade and communications restrictions on themselves, than they can sell themselves into slavery. Natural rights, including those codified in the 1st amendment, CANNOT be contracted away in a service agreement.

    Old broadcast systems were limited in carriage capability by implementation costs. Scarcity created high market barrier to entry. As barrier to entry dropped, we are seeing a movement to fabricate market advantage by regulation. It is an attempt to bouy market advantage that ONLY ever existed because of capital leverage.

    Which is to say that the intent is unashamedly to subvert article 1 and the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and create formalized legal distinctions between social classes. These distinctions are intended specifically to manipulate the peoples right to peacefully petition their government for redress of grievances.

    You only need to look at the current election cycle to see the effects of this abuse in action.

    The people of the United States will not be dissuaded from these natural rights. We can say this with confidence because past attempts to do so have resulted in the States no longer being United. We proved that in 1776 and again in 1861.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 10:38am

    Cut the cord already

    Best decision I ever made in my life. It saves me a fortune every year. Did it 8 years ago and never looked back.

    Copyright has become such a mutated beast, it needs to be put down permanently.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 5:02pm

    Only WE Can Do It...

    Soooo... if Comcast, CBS, NBC, ABC, MTV, and all the others can make content available over the internet if you use their apps then WHY CAN'T OTHERS MAKE CABLE BOXES/DEVICES that can serve the content? Hmmm... they want to control the entire platform? Naaaa.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jul 2016 @ 5:10pm

    "devices authorized to play back that content"

    Does Not Compute

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 22 Jul 2016 @ 9:48pm

    Molestation

    Come on, "molest the definition?" [Shudder] That really grates.

    Why not "mangle the definition?"

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


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