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Enforcement

One reader says I'm dead wrong about the enforcement problems posed by the no fast forwarding rule:

Implementing this technologically and legally would be trivial.
  • You send a "Do Not Fast-Forward" flag on broadcast commercials.
  • You make it illegal to sell equipment that doesn't respect the flag.
Done and done.

Congress has already done something very similar in making it illegal to sell a consumer camcorder that won't respect the Macrovision flag on analog signals coming out of DVD players and VCR's. (In other words, camcorder legally must refuse to record a signal that contains a copy-protection flag...)

That sounds sadly convincing.

November 23, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

Yeah, and not to be overly dramatic or anything, but I think it goes a lot deeper than that. The term "Orwellian" gets thrown around a lot, but remember how in the book, members of the Outer Party were never allowed to turn off their viewscreens? It's not this specific manifestation of fascist tendencies that's scary; it's the broader thinking that goes behind it. Citizens = Consumers = Potential sources of revenue. From that perspective, it's easy to understand the calculus.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Nov 23, 2004 10:12:37 AM

The difference is the PC. A general-purpose computer is a recording device, but one that can record signals from all sorts of different sources without even knowing what they are. As such, it is likely to be made illegal. Such a move may well have adverse effects on business.

Essential reading:
http://junk.haughey.com/doctorow-drm-ms.html

http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/
http://www.corante.com/copyfight/
http://www.lessig.org/blog/

Posted by: Andrew McGuinness | Nov 23, 2004 10:21:43 AM

Criminey, how long do you think it will take before someone creates a box that takes a digital stream and sets all such bits to zero?

As a network professional, one of the basic tenets of running a network is this: "technology cannot solve social problems." What that basically means is that you can try to filter porn at the company's border with all manner of expensive and complicated schemes, but people will find a way around it. But if you don't filter it, tell people that you are watching what their network traffic is and tell them they will be fired for downloading porn, you have a simple, inexpensive and completely workable solution.

It seems to me that if you want people to watch ads, you can't force them. Make them want to watch them. Hell, my friends and I look forward to the British ad award movie every year at this time. I'm paying money to watch nothing but 90 minutes of ads...

Posted by: yam | Nov 23, 2004 10:23:58 AM

Are people still watching TV?

The money I'd spend on cable and TiVo can buy me more than enough DVD's to keep me entertained. And, what's more, I can sell them again on Half.com for pretty close to what I bought 'em for.

Posted by: al-Isqut | Nov 23, 2004 10:36:11 AM

Ever notice that on DVDs you can't fast forward through the FBI copyright warning? Pretty simple.

Posted by: SP | Nov 23, 2004 10:36:14 AM

As a network professional, one of the basic tenets of running a network is this: "technology cannot solve social problems." What that basically means is that you can try to filter porn at the company's border with all manner of expensive and complicated schemes, but people will find a way around it.

This is a tempting line of reasoning, but it's really just the product of us getting spoiled by the openness of the PC platform and the talented hackers it has spawned. Some technologies really are bulletproof -- and many, many more are practically bulletproof. We're probably safe for a decade or so, since any legislation will have to ensure that standards maintain compatibility with existing analog equipment. Once everything's all-digital, though, we'd have to wait for consumer access to quantum computers (or gigantic engineering mistakes like what led to DeCSS) to open up these platforms. I'd rather not have to go through that hassle.

Posted by: tom | Nov 23, 2004 10:48:53 AM

"Ever notice that on DVDs you can't fast forward through the FBI copyright warning?"

THAT depends on the software you use to view them on your computer. ;)

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 23, 2004 11:31:05 AM

Matt,

Your correspondent is correct. Just like it's not that hard for the government to force general public compliance with the Macrovision DVD region encoding system (i.e. by outlawing DVD players that don't respect it), it won't be that hard for them to enforce this rule. A flag attached to the signal and a ban on non-compliant playback devices are all that's necessary.

Jon

Posted by: Hannibal | Nov 23, 2004 12:51:57 PM

Well, here in Geneva I recently bought a cheap (by the local standards) DVD player at a decent store (one in a large chain). As I was paying at a cash registry the salesman said: "oh, yeah, you'll also need this" and handed me a photocopy of an instruction of how to program this DVD player as 'multi-zone'. Clearly a violation of one of these stupid laws, because it wasn't a part of the standard documentation.

So, if this 'you must watch the commercials' (aka 'obey', 'consume', 'don't question authorities') law is passed, the manufacturers will probably find some kind of a loophole anyway.

One of the cases when market corrects excesses of government. Gotta play these beasts against each other as much as possible; unfortunately it's getting more and more difficult as they have basically merged into one horrendous monster...

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 23, 2004 1:37:40 PM

Such a bit would also make a nice easy way of identifying the parts of a video stream that you don't want to record. The device could be made to not allow fast forwarding during the live play of the commercial, but unless there is a requirement that this part of the video actually be written to the storage device, the commercials could be automatically edited out.

Posted by: Tom | Nov 23, 2004 4:07:32 PM

Apparently in the UK (and probably elsewhere
outside the US) when you buy a DVD recorder it
usually comes with a piece of paper which tells
you a magic sequence of commands to disable the
region-encoding check so that you can play DVDs
from anywhere. People outside the US definitely
want to be able to view US-region DVDs; people
inside the US tolerate going without foreign stuff.
Apparently this trick of shipping with the feature
disabled by default is enough to get round the
licensing.

It would be just great to have a flag on
commercials so that someone can build a machine
to skip them automatically - that would seem to
be the likely outcome.

Posted by: Richard Cownie | Nov 23, 2004 4:50:08 PM

Those with time, money, and/or technological expertise will be able to get around the "Do Not Fast-Forward" flag.

For example, I have a DVD player that allows me to disable Macrovision on my output signal, allowing me to capture DVD clips onto tape and my computer.

But it's instructive to note the extemes I had to pursue to get this setup: I had to do extensive research, buy a specific model of DVD player, buy a modified chip from an overseas source, open up my DVD player, and install the chip myself.

In other words, 99% of people will be subject to the "Do Not Fast-Forward" restriction, and the 1% technological/hobbyist elite will be able to get around it.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 23, 2004 10:07:59 PM

A "do not fast forward flag" and the hardware to respect it is only a temporary solution.

Very soon we will be controlling video via our computers, and software to overcome any such flag will be easily downloadable.

The fix is NOT easy or obvious which is why the RIAA and the MPAA or in such a dither.

They should be, their business model is immoral and unsupportable technologically.

Posted by: epistemology | Nov 24, 2004 9:00:14 AM

Petey:

You mean like the 1% of songs which are now downloaded vs bought by the technologically elite (ie, any kid with a computer).

Posted by: epistemology | Nov 24, 2004 9:15:57 AM

You know, if they did broadcast this check-bit, it'd probably be easy enough to reprogram the V-chip included in every TV not to display any commercials ever.

Posted by: Nick Simmonds | Nov 24, 2004 12:27:15 PM

Radio Shack, Target, Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and various US retailers routinely sell multi-region capable DVD players, that also are able to play CD's burned with DIVX, XVID, and various other video codecs. Panasonic makes a wonderful one.

Basically, you can download your movies, burn them to CD, and easily watch them on your (probably) larger TV screen via the player. Also, it will play CD's burned with hundreds of MP3 and WMA encoded songs. The only catch is that the box will almost definitely not tell you that the player has such functions, and the salespeople are not supposed to tell you either.

If this has been a good enough solution for the MPAA and RIAA to not come down on these , there will be no problem for similarly equipped DVRs in the future to get around fast-forward bans. All that said, who ever really thought Orwell would get it right?

Posted by: Deip | Nov 24, 2004 6:26:05 PM

epistemology,

"Very soon we will be controlling video via our computers"

Maybe you will be, but most people will be controlling video via commercial DVD players, and cable company provided DVR's.

"You mean like the 1% of songs which are now downloaded vs bought by the technologically elite"

The broadcast and Hollywood industries are trying very hard to avoid the recording industry's downfall.

With the help of a pliant Congress, I seriously doubt we will ever see the mass adoption of video file sharing that we saw with music at the height of Napster.

And to speak a heresy, that's a good thing.

No one in their right mind is going to defend anything as stupid as the No Fast-Forward ban, but keeping Hollywood from being killed by piracy the way the Hong Kong film industry was is a worthy goal.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 25, 2004 10:33:32 AM

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