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Content Companies Demand Total Control of Set-Top Boxes at FCC

DEEPLINKS BLOG
September 7, 2016

Content Companies Demand Total Control of Set-Top Boxes at FCC

It has always been about gaining control over technology and never about copyright law.

Major TV producers have finally said what they really want from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in exchange for breaking up the cable companies' monopoly over set-top boxes. As they continue to push fake copyright arguments that experts in copyright law have roundly refuted, they have now made clear the price they want consumers and independent content creators to pay.

That price is detailed in this letter (PDF) from Disney, CBS, Time Warner, Viacom, and Scripps Networks. In short, the big TV companies do not want consumers to have the ability to search the Internet for videos and they do not want device makers to have the freedom to create devices with all of the features consumers want. Since they have never actually had the power under copyright law to make this happen, they are turning to the FCC to give them that power through regulations. Major TV producers are trying to use the FCC to protect their existing businesses from the disruptive effects of innovation, forestall market forces through regulation, and deny small independent artists the opportunity to compete against cable content. EFF has joined with independent online video creators (PDF) to push back.

Independent artists in the Internet era rely heavily on the ability to be discovered. As a result, they exist on open platforms and are dependent on consumers' ability to search for content that meets their needs. The more niche and unique the content, the more it depends on Internet search for finding an audience. If the FCC enacts the TV producers' proposal to restrict search to "licensed content," independent creators will effectively disappear from TV screens. A rule like that would mean that only cable and established paid subscription services are allowed in search results, not platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, and smaller sites that are open to new video creators. To make things even worse, the major TV producers are demanding that the FCC give them the power to dictate how user interfaces on home video devices will look and function. Independent creators benefit from new user interfaces that give users ability to comment and share video, and give independent artists the ability to interact directly with an audience to build a fan base. Without the freedom to design an interface at the device maker end, it is clear that today's big players will restrain anything that threatens their dominance of TV.

It doesn't surprise us that this is what they wanted from the beginning: it repeats the same tired pattern of crying wolf at the next disruptive technology and then seeking out ways to destroy it through laws and regulations. We hope that policy makers in Congress and the FCC recognize what is being asked of them. The courts and Congress have (mostly) refused to grant major TV producers the power to control customers' hardware and software. The FCC should not hand them that power now.

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