In recent weeks a community of enthusiasts has developed a useful, and impressive, set of unauthorized enhancements to the Apple TV. These enhancements make this product work better for end users, and they exist in a great tradition of user innovation in which users who care about a product (and understand their own needs and desires) figure out how to make that product do something more. (The same kind of activity thrives around game console systems, and, of course, the TiVo -- sometimes to the chagrin of TiVo, Inc.)

Unfortunately, in today's digital media environment, users' improvements to products are often not welcomed by the manufacturers whose products are made more valuable. Instead of thanks, tinkerers often receive threats of litigation. Sometimes, the manufacturers spend hours of engineering effort to counteract and undo the users' improvements -- to break the new features that the users achieved and return the product to its original functionality. This may be a result of business strategy and a desire to avoid upsetting copyright holders. You may be the customer, but you may not have the last word if a copyright "partner" doesn't like what you've figured out how to do.

It's a bit disheartening, not to mention wasteful, to have all of your creative effort annulled by a "product upgrade" (or to be threatened with litigation if you continue to share it with others). That's why lots of people are excited about open systems that put the user in charge: when you add value to an open system, it's harder for someone to turn up and take it away from you. (That's one reason we've been excited about MythTV, the software that can turn your PC into a personal video recorder that you control, and why we're also excited to see what happens with the forthcoming open cell phone from OpenMoko.)

This point was recently emphasized in a nice essay by Neuros Technology, the company behind the MPEG recorder that uses the "analog hole" to cut through licensing and DMCA thickets and let you watch commercial video on a wide variety of portable devices -- today, not years from now after some consortium negotiates a complicated DRM deal. Neuros is also promoting an open media center; they publish schematics and code, and invite the community to figure out how to make the product better. That's a refreshing contrast to the attitude of many other electronics companies.

EFF is proud to have Neuros as a supporter, and we hope they continue to inspire the spread of the PC and Internet ethos of openness in the consumer electronics world.

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