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TiVo and MPAA Do Battle Over Video Transferability

30 Jul, 2004 By: Erik Gruenwedel


Battle lines have been drawn in the sandbox of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), pitting the motion picture studios, the National Football League and other content providers against TiVoGuard, a new technology available in the fall from digital video recording service TiVo that would allow subscribers to transfer programming to their PCs.

The FCC is expected to decide within two weeks on the merits of 13 separate technologies (including TiVoGuard) up for approval in the government's broadcast-flag initiative that aims to protect over-the-air digital programming — via embedded digital bits — from unauthorized redistribution.

Implementation of this broadcast flag, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), would permit digital TV stations to obtain “high-value content” and assure consumers a continued source of attractive, free, over-the-air programming without limiting consumers' ability to make personal copies.

The MPAA's beef with TiVoGuard revolves around the lack of “proximity controls” on the transfer of content on up to nine separate media devices. Last month, the trade agency sent the FCC a 15-page white paper outlining faults of TiVoGuard. Among principal concerns, the MPAA argues that TiVoGuard's lack of restrictions on who could receive the redistributed programming invited parallels with the current unlawful redistribution of music on peer-to-peer networks.

“We don't have a problem if you want to move the content to your summer home, your boat or office, but the TiVo application does not require any kind of relationship with the sender,” said Yokitis Phuong, director of public affairs for the MPAA. “It could be a nightclub in Singapore.”

Fred Von Lohmann, senior intellectual property attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group, said the concept of delivering content from your personal video recorder (PVR) to a laptop in your hotel room is “pretty cool” and one that allows TiVo to differentiate itself from a growing pack of PVR competitors.A recent report suggested that more than 20 percent of all households would have a PVR by 2008.

“If they can't offer this enhanced feature, some observers wonder if they will be able to make it as a company,” Von Lohmann said. “The broadcast flag may well put a nail in their coffin.”

A TiVo spokesperson said talk of the company's demise based on a lack of FCC support is wrong and premature.

“We are confident that they will rule in favor of technology innovation that provides consumers with additional flexibility while respecting the rights of content creators,” the spokesperson said.

TiVo, which transmits all content in analog, said a negative FCC ruling wouldn't affect much of the company's business in the near term. “There is [more of] a fear of the unknown of what could be done with that [technology],” the spokesperson said.

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