Halloween on the Hill
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Rest in peace; the haunting's free
Halloween is traditionally the time when the undead walk; preposterous
monstrosities that no-one could imagine living stumble and moan through the
So guess what the entertainment industry decided to dust off for an extra
spooky session with the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday?
But that's not spooky enough for the MPAA. For their party trick this year,
they want to take one of the most basic and ubiquitous components in
multimedia, and encase it within a pile of legally-enforced, complex, and
patented proprietary technology - forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, the MPAA have chosen Halloween week to resurrect their
most misconceived monster ever: the Thing from the Analog
Feel free to flick through this new Halloween
it's a legislative draft proposed by the MPAA for a hearing of the House
Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, on the topic "Content Protection in the Digital Age: The Broadcast Flag, High-Definition Radio, and the Analog Hole," on November 3rd.
On Thursday, they'll be no doubt declaring this law's passing to be vital to the entertainment
industry's survival, just as Jack Valenti told the same committee that the
would kill the film industry.
Here's what the proposed law says, in a nutshell:
Every consumer analog video input device manufactured in the United States
will be, within a year, forced to obey not one, but two new copy restriction
technologies: a watermarking system called VEIL, and a rights system called
CGMS-A (we've covered
CGMS-A before; we'll talk
a bit more about VEIL soon).
And what might these MPAA-specified, government-mandated technologies do?
They prescribe how many times (if at all) the analog video signal might be
copied - and enforce it. This is the future world that was accidentally
triggered for TiVo users a few months ago, when viewers found themselves
lectured by their own PVR that their recorded programs would be deleted after
a few days.
But it won't just be your TiVo: anything that brings analog video into the
digital world will be shackled. Forget about buying a VCR with an un-DRMed
digital output. Forget about getting a TV card for your computer that will
willingly spit out an open, clear format.
Forget, realistically, that your computer will ever be under your control
again. To allow any high-res digitization to take place at all, a new
graveyard of digital content will have to built within your PC.
Freshly minted digital video from authorised video analog-to-digital
converters will be marshalled here and here only, where they will be forced to
comply with the battery of restrictions dictated by Hollywood.
In this Nightmare Before
Turing, video content will be
crippled, far more than it ever was in its old analog home. They will only be
able to be recorded using "Authorized Recording Methods", or "Bound Recording
Methods", and the entire subsystem will have to obey "robustness" requirements
that will make circumvention for fair use - and open source development in
general - near impossible.
The unprotected analog outputs of computers will be, in perpetuity, restricted
to either DRM-laden standards, or to a "constrained image", "no more than
350,000 pixels". Analog video which has been branded as "do not copy", will
last for only ninety minutes only in the digital world - and will be erased,
literally frame by frame, megabyte by megabyte, from your PC, without your
control. You'll watch a two hour film, and as you watch the final half hour,
the first few scenes will be being dissolved away by statute.
Moore's Law won't dictate how technology might improve and innovate any
longer: in this Halloween future, the new limit for technological innovation
is No More's Law, where your specs are spelled out and frozen by Congress in a
law drafted by standards that were laughable in the last century.
And this is just a plain description of how this might affect our technology.
Quite beside that, the law is littered with throwaway requirements that would
smack our economy and social norms in the face as well.
The MPAA, for instance, graciously permits a few, precious, normal
analog-to-digital convertors to exist. But only on "professional devices".
What's a professional device? Well, just as in the Audio Home Recording
Act (AHRA), it's a
device that is intended for use by recording professionals. (AHRA you will
recall, was the law that mandated copy protection on all but "professional"
DAT recorders, thereby killing the technology almost stone dead in the
Unlike that Act, in the MPAA's new bill, "if a device is ... commonly
purchased by persons other than [commercial copiers], then such device shall
not be considered a 'professional device'".
In other words, you can sell standard unrestricted digitizers, until you
become too popular. Then magically, you're liable. For not more than
$500,000 or five years imprisonment for a first offence. Good luck explaining
that market condition to your backers.
Oh, and don't think you can just obey the law as it stands now: if the VEIL
technologies prescribed by the law become "materially ineffective", then the
government can upgrade those standards, and demand compliance on the new spec.
The trustworthy, well-funded technological powerhouse they've chosen to give
this new responsibility of monitoring, designing, and managing the upgrading
of every video convertor in the United States? That uncontroversial institution, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
It's genuinely shocking to us that the entertainment industry would bring even
one of their standard technological pipe-dreams to the table now, even as
they are still reeling from the reception the broadcast flag has so far
received in the courts and in congressional committees.
But to bring this: an invasive, future-crippling Frankenstein monster of a
DMCA anti-circumvention bill, bolted together with an overbroad broadcast-flag
restriction, to stand guard at every exit from the analog video world into
digital future, is breathtaking.
It's bad enough that Hollywood's customers have had to drag them and their
content kicking and screaming from dying business models into a new era. Now
they seem intent on putting up government roadblocks to stop any of us from
leaving their Haunted Mansion of dying analog video media, into world of a
living, developing, digital future. Spooky indeed.