The FCC is going to allow the Hollywood movie folks to control your set top box in what it cites as being a move to prevent piracy. Here is how it is going to work. The movie people want to add additional revenue to their coffers by showing their movies on satellite and cable TV, before the movie is released to DVD. This would position the viewing of the movie between the time it is shown in theaters until the time it makes its way to DVD.

So the FCC is going to grant access to the digital output of set top boxes to limit or to prevent copying by the viewer. A recent article stated:

The order concerns an anti-piracy technique known as “selectable output control.” For a movie made availableĀ beforeĀ its release on disc, a studio will be able to instruct pay-TV operators to turn off the analog connectors on viewers’ set-top boxes, transmitting the movie only through encrypted digital outputs. Analog connectors have rudimentary anti-piracy controls at best; encrypted digital outputs, such as HDMI with DTCP, can be programmed to bar or limit copying.

A 2004 FCC rule had forbidden pay-TV operators from using selectable output control, largely out of concern for the millions of early digital-TV buyers whose sets don’t have encrypted inputs. But the commission had also said the prohibition could be waived for a new Hollywood business model.

As for the harm to consumers, it’s hard to see how anyone is hurt when programs are made available in additional ways in a format that only some people can access. That kind of thing happens any time a new technology is introduced — witness HDTV and Blu-ray discs, for example. And the FCC smartly barred studios from turning off analog outputs for more than 90 days on any given title, to avoid the possibility of consumers who rely on older TVs and conventional DVD players from being cut off completely.

Though some may disagree with my assessment, I personally believe that allowing access to any set top box could one day allow Hollywood to control or limit even access to legitimate devices in legitimate ways. Allowing Hollywood and the record industry too much control over our lives is not going to be beneficial to the consumer.

Comments welcome.

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