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MPAA, Consumer Groups Battle Over FCC Waiver

5 Nov, 2009 By: Chris Tribbey

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and a coalition of consumer interest groups traded barbs Nov. 4 over an MPAA request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that, if approved, could give the movie industry power to turn off analog video outputs on consumer electronics during special VOD presentations.

The MPAA is asking the FCC to lift a 2003 ban against selectable output control (SOC), which would have allowed service operators, such as cable companies, to turn off analog outputs on consumer electronics devices, only allowing digital plugs, such as HDMI, to be used for VOD, since those can handle copy protection.

The MPAA first made its petition to the FCC in mid-2008, saying the studios wanted to partner with “multi-channel video programming distributors” to potentially deliver movies to consumers between the theatrical and DVD windows.

“Such a valuable offering necessarily would require a higher level of protection against copyright theft than is currently permissible under the  Commission’s rules, and therefore requires a waiver of the current rule restricting the exercise of selectable output control,” the MPAA’s request reads.

But more than a dozen public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, the Digital Freedom Campaign, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Consumer Federation of America and the Media Access Project, are fighting the MPAA over the request, saying it puts control of privately owned consumer electronics into the hands of the movie industry, hurts TiVo and Slingbox owners, and leaves out consumers who own TVs without digital connections.

“The MPAA has failed to provide a reason as to why the limited interests of its six member movie studios should be allowed to outweigh the interests of those consumers that will be forced to replace over 20 million television sets and countless other devices in order to view content that their current equipment is capable of displaying,” the Nov. 4 letter from the interest groups reads. “Furthermore, granting the waiver effectively would allow MPAA member companies to control the types of connections and features offered to all U.S. consumers, forcing consumer electronics designers and manufacturers to agree to almost any consumer-unfriendly conditions just to display SOC content.”

But the MPAA said Nov. 4 that granting its waiver request would be “an incredibly pro-consumer development.”

“As MPAA has detailed throughout this proceeding, grant of the waiver would for the first time allow millions of consumers to view high-value, high-definition theatrical films during an early release window that is not available today,” its letter reads. “MPAA has explained that release of this high-value content as part of an earlier window, especially with respect to movies released for home viewing close to or even during their initial theatrical run, necessarily requires the highest level of protection possible through use of SOC.”

The MPAA compared the public interest groups’ objections to TV stations objecting to broadcasting in color when most TV sets were still black and white.

“Indeed, whenever innovative technologies bring consumers new and better opportunities to enjoy media content, there is always a lag between when early adopters take advantage of these opportunities and when they become ubiquitous,” the MPAA argues.

The FCC’s Media Bureau has not indicated when it will rule on the MPAA’s request.

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