The Copyright Mafia have certainly been feeling needy recently. Maybe it’s all that talk about how wonderful broadband access is — with all the awful piracy it creates — clouding out how movies made record breaking profits this year. Maybe it’s because the London Times linked to studies that show that musicians (but not labels) do better in a world of file sharing. Maybe it’s just the sadness of winter time and the end of a decade in which PK managed to hold off nearly all the awful legislation the Copyright Mafia proposed. But whatever it is, Hollywood has been saying to it’s friends in DC “hold me,” and their DC friends have been ready to oblige.
But what caught my attention was not just the usual round of festivities by Democrats to reassure Hollywood before an election year that “we love you like no other, don’t pay that foolish broadband stuff no mind.” No, it was the surprise statement by Professor Chris Yoo that if the FCC gave Hollywood a waiver so it could shut off your television’s analog outputs (what we call in this biz Selectable Output Control or SOC), it would help stop live sports piracy?
Funny, whenever we say to the folks at the FCC (or anywhere else) that Hollywood wants to control analog outputs generally and that after they get a “narrow waiver” for releasing movies to VoD earlier than they do on DVD, they will come after live sports events, the MPAA does that eye-rolling thing where ya know, whacky info commies and their crazy conspiracy theories about how big bad Hollywood wants to control everything and the FCC staff get those fixed smiles on their faces that anyone who has ever dealt with teenagers will recognize as the “I’m stuck sitting here pretending to listen until you go” look.
So to have Yoo come out and — apparently unprompted and after a hearing that had nothing whatsoever to do with SOC — come out and say “yeah, the FCC ought to waive SOC rules for live sporting events, because everyone knows analog outputs are just STRAWS OF PIRACY SUCKING THE LIFEBLOOD OF THE CONTENT INDUSTRY INTO THE GREEDY CRIMINAL MORASS THAT IS TEH INTERWEBZ” kinda grabbed my attention. As I always tell my critics — if I’m delusional, it seems to be a functional and prescient sort of delusion.
More below . . .
At the beginning of the week, the ever thoughtful Mr. Biden held a big party for his Copyright buddies, because nothing chases away those winter blahs like a party with “all the stakeholders.” Assuming that “all the stakeholders” means copyright interests and heads of government agencies there to reassure them that the government is and will remain at their personal enforcers despite any other matters that might seem more pressing — like global terrorism, human trafficking, or any of that other stupid less important stuff. Cause when you’re feeling blue, Joe knows there’s nothing that can pick up a CEO’s flagging spirits like hearing the Secretary of Commerce, the Head of the FBI, the Head of Homeland Security, and the President’s special adviser explain that “Whatever else is going on, whoever else may be losing their job, honey, it’s all . . . about . . . you.” They even kicked out the reporters after the open remarks so they could ‘talk frankly’ in private. Does Joe Biden know how to rekindle an old flame, or what?
Not to be outdone, the good folks at the House Judiciary Committee staged their own holiday party for Hollywood. Since “p2p” is now passe, the Judiciary’s Secret Santa brought Hollywood a whole new villain to attack in the name of piracy, streaming media. (Hey everyone, remember when ‘streaming media’ was the good way to get content online because it could be protected unlike that evil peer-2-peer stuff so Hollywood pretended they loved streaming media so they could outlaw peer-2-peer? Boy, we were so young back then . . .) For entertainment, they invited Justin.TV CEO Michael Sibel to take part in a little Xmass Pageant where he got to play the Christian Martyr while ESPN, MLB, and Ultimate Fighting Championship (the folks who have rights to Las Vegas fights) got to play the lions.
For “balance,” the Committee invited Professor Christopher Yoo of U Penn. Yoo is certainly a brilliant scholar and well published in the area, which is why I say “balance” not balance. Actual balance would have put another academic with a different perspective (or, dare I say it, a consumer advocate, *ahem*). Yoo’s opinions on matters of copyright are well-known (which is why he scored the invite to this little Hollywood pick me up session), and they boil down to “the Government, which has no business regulating the Internet when it comes to network neutrality, has been too good to those scum they call ISPs and the miserable
criminal pirates subscribers who patronize them. Congress ought to give the fine upstanding creators of content better tools to beat the sorry ass of ISPs and subscribers into submission help them protect their property and preserve their rights.”
Yoo’s testimony and responses to the Committee questions recommended things familiar to folks who follow the field. The DMCA doesn’t go far enough and should be reopened. We need to change the rules on “notice and take down” to make ISPs more responsive. Anyone accused of “piracy” ought to be subject to extraordinary rendition, etc.
But what caught my particular attention was the report in Communications Daily (no link). According to Comm Daily, Professor Yoo figured that while he was sitting on Santa’s knee (for an interview, not at the Judiciary Committee), he should put in a plug for Hollywood’s current favorite Xmass present, SOC.
Allowing a waiver of the FCC’s selectable output control rules, would also help curb the problem, Yoo said in the interview. He told the committee that the analog component video ports on set-top boxes are typically the first step in distributing unauthorized live programming online. Analog copy protection systems are “generally relatively easy to evade,” and digital content protection systems used in connection with HDMI and DVI ports are more effective, he said.
As this was but a casual interview, I’ll assume Yoo actually has some evidence to back up this claim. If he does, I would urge him to share it with the MPAA or file it with the FCC. As we observed before, the MPAA’s last effort to back up it’s claims not only failed to show a connection between watching movies over analog outputs and piracy, it suffered from some curious gaps and contradictions. For example, after chastising me on page 3 for my “disingenuous” demand that the MPAA prove that movies released on VoD before being released on DVD are actually pirated earlier as a result because “by the time a movie is available on VOD today, almost without fail it already has been stolen and made available on the Internet in perfect digital quality” (emphasis in original) they admit later on pages 6-7 that, yeah, some folks do release movies to VoD before they are out on DVD, so we could actually produce the kind of evidence that PK asks for, but, despite our ability to track back illegally copied movies with precision when we want to make a point about how piracy spreads through the Internet, we suddenly lose this ability and cannot tell where the illegal copies come from for any of the movies PK points out were released to VoD before release on DVD.“
I’m assuming Yoo, as a law professor, has a much better understanding of what constitutes ”evidence“ than the folks at the MPAA, and therefore is not simply falling back on the ”piracy happens, so it probably happens through analog outputs“ crap that the MPAA keeps treating as ”evidence.“ If so, I hope he passes it on to the MPAA or the FCC, so we can have an actual debate about the merits.
But this is merely a sideshow to the main event: Yoo’s assertion that the FCC ought to grant a SOC waiver for live television events to stop people from streaming them. Now I’m sure Yoo was not channeling the MPAA when he made this statement, because the MPAA has been very clear that they would NEVER ask for such a thing. After all, they only want a narrowly tailored waiver. And the FCC staff keep assuring us, over and over again, that
when if they do recommend to Genachowski that they grant the waiver, it will only be narrowly tailored and that they would NEVER grant a SOC waiver for live sporting events. Because, as we all know, once you start granting waivers on the basis of ”my content is so precious it needs protection,” no one else will ever come in and make that argument. And if they did, the Bureau would certainly draw the line.
Man, now I’m depressed. I wish I made big donations to the Democratic Party so that someone would throw me a little pick me up party like Joe Biden and the House Judiciary did for the Copyright Mafia. Maybe I could get Rahm to come over and split a latke.
Stay tuned . . . ..