FCC Urged To Protect Consumers’ TVs from Movie Companies
FCC Urged To Protect Consumers’ TVs from Movie Companies
FCC Urged To Protect Consumers’ TVs from Movie Companies

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    Seven public-interest and consumer groups, led by Public Knowledge, late yesterday called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to turn down Hollywood’s request to take control of consumers’ TV sets and other devices.

    The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) asked the FCC on May 9 to grant it an exemption to 2003 rules that specifically prohibited the type of behavior the movie companies want to pursue now – the ability to limit what consumer devices can do. MPAA said it needed the waiver so that it could offer movies to consumers while protecting copyrighted material.

    MPAA’s petition, however, is not necessary, the groups said. Through “selective output control,” (SOC) the waiver “will give the largest motion picture production companies veto power over the connections which are used to connect set-top boxes, receivers, high definition televisions, home theater systems, digital video recorders (‘DVR’), and other consumer electronics devices,” the groups said in their comments. Signing the opposition to the MPAA request are: Public Knowledge, Consumer Federation of America, Digital Freedom Campaign, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and U.S. PIRG. The text of the public-interest comments is at: http://www.publicknowledge.org/pdf/pk-etal-comments-20080721.pdf

    “This veto power will give media companies leverage to dictate which home electronics manufacturers can produce products capable of viewing their content. Through that leverage, these media companies will gain the ability to control other aspects of the devices’ design and the users’ experience. The net effect of granting the waiver is to let content owners choose which types of connections users of digital content can have in their homes and what uses those connections allow, regardless of which connections users, consumer electronics manufacturers, MVPDs, and the rest of the relevant market decide are best.”

    The MPAA waiver, if granted, will give the companies the ability to allow some devices to work and others not to work, the groups said: “If granted, the waiver will frustrate consumer expectations regarding their home theater equipment and will give movie studios unprecedented and undesirable control over the design and use of home electronics equipment.” The comments gave the example of a new Sony announcement that it would make the new movie, “Hancock,” available sooner to owners of a Sony TV with a proprietary video connection than to the rest of the consumer-electronics-owning public.

    In addition, the groups said the waiver isn’t necessary to protect copyright, noting that the business model the industry is touting is not new, and that it has been asking for protection for digital material since 2002. Rather, copyright violations would be reduced even without the restrictions the industry is proposing, the groups said: “In fact, MPAA’s proposed ‘business model’ aims to bring recently-released movies into consumer homes, providing a legal, convenient source of new movies for home viewing. The proliferation of online, legal purchasing of music has amply demonstrated that when content owners offer their products in a convenient, non-restricted, reasonably priced form, people will pay for it.”
    The groups added that “such a move to earlier VoD release is likely to reduce infringement, even without SOC.”

    Members of the media may contact Communications Director Shiva Stella with inquiries, interview requests, or to join the Public Knowledge press list at shiva@publicknowledge.org or 405-249-9435.