Opinion: Fight for the right to watch what you want, when you want.
Finally, the holiday season is over. Now is the time to sit back and catch up on all those TV shows and bowl games you recorded while you were on vacation or at parties.
I think Im going to watch that bowl game from late December first. Hmm, its not working. Whats this?
"Thank you for recording our live broadcast. You have 2 hours after the end of the live broadcast to watch your recording, after which it will no longer be accessible."
That stinks. But at least I can watch the new episodes of "Lost" that I recorded to my VCR. Wait a second, its just static. Let me look at the manual that came with my new TV: "In order to protect copyrighted broadcasts, this TV has been enhanced with features that prevent recording to the pirate devices known as VCRs."
Does this sound a little far-fetched to you? Well, it may not be in the future. Thats because some members of Congress are working hard to reverse 30 years of fair-use rights and the ability to record and shift programming to fit the users and not the studios needs. And our buddies want to do this by closing what is known as the "analog hole."
I first wrote about this issue a few weeks ago on the eWEEK Labs blog.
At that time, a bill was being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, but as the committee rushed out for the holidays, it quickly sent the proposed bill to the House, where it will be up for a vote.
Some of you might be thinking, What is the analog hole, and what does this bill have to do with technology and my job?
To put it simply, the analog hole is the nondigital method that we have all used for 30 years to make recordings. Its based on the idea that if you can see or hear something, you can record it.
Of course, to the movie and music companies, the analog hole is an evil hacker tool, as its completely resistant to rights management and other copyright lockdowns that they want to put on their content.
So theyve buttered up certain members of Congress and gotten them to propose a bill mandating that all computer and electronics makers essentially break their products so they are no longer able to output to analog recording devices unless the rights management on the content allows it. (The text of the bill can be found here, in PDF form.
So, if this bill passes, you can forget about ever recording anything on your own terms again. Recorded programs will have time limits within which you can watch them, or they will have time limits that start once you begin watching.
You can forget about watching something over the course of several nights. And you can definitely forget about watching a tape on different systems or lending it to a friend.
Read more here about objections to a proposed TiVo handheld application.
Some (if not most) content will eventually be impossible to record. Which means it will be the 1960s all over againwe will all be at the mercy of broadcasters scheduling whims.
Of course, many Americans will realize that products released after this bill passes will be broken, limited pieces of garbageno matter what bells and whistles the manufacturers add to try to hide that fact.
So most people will simply refuse to buy the new stuff and will stick to older products that dont limit their options.
The manufacturers of these "new and improved" products will see their wares sitting on store shelves, following the old DivX players on the road to obscurity.
Part of me thinks this bill doesnt stand a chance of getting passed. After all, members of Congress have to know that Americans will endure a lot of bad laws from Washington but wont stand for anyone messing with their TVs.
On the other hand, in Washington, more than anywhere else, money talks. And this bill could easily slip through, probably by being attached to a more important bill.
So go to www.house.gov
and contact your legislators about this bill and see if we can get them to hit the Stop button on it.
Because if the bill passes, we may not be able to rewind to the days when fair-use rights actually meant something.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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