DRM hoses TV

August 14, 2008

I’ve just been to a preview of new products coming from Belkin. Among these was a really nifty item they’re calling the FlyWire. It connects to your HDTV sources (cable box, Blu-ray player, whatever), then broadcasts the signal to a smaller receiver box that connects to your TV. Basically, it’s wireless cabling for your flat-screen.

Belkin FlyWire - rear showing inputs

Belkin FlyWire - rear showing inputs

Even neater, it can transmit to multiple receivers, allowing you to switch, say, your favorite TV show up to your bedroom TV. It includes an infrared ‘Blaster’ to relay remote-control commands back to the cable box.

Cool idea. But: one thing this $1,000 product can’t do is transmit one digital source to multiple TVs. For example, to allow you and the wife to watch upstairs while the kids watch downstairs.

With analog cable, this is easy: just insert a splitter in the wire. (You might need a signal booster.) Network players do it too; I’ve had no trouble streaming the same video clip to multiple PCs over our home network. With the new HDMI digital high-def connection, however, it’s impossible. (And just for good measure, will soon be illegal, under Bill C-61.) The HDCP copy-protection built into HDMI won’t let you view one source simultaneously on multiple TVs.

Does it make sense to limit usage in this way? Sure: provided you’re a Hollywood accountant. If I ‘own’ a DVD, I have a right to watch it. My whole family has a right to watch it simultaneously. Do they all have to be in the same room to do so? I’ll leave that question to the lawyers. But what’s clear is that HDCP is not protecting the content from being “stolen.” It’s protecting the business model of the owner — or, rather, creating an entirely new profit opportunity, moving us to per-room licensing for content, and away from the old 1950s per-household model.

Just another example of how technology is being used to de-feature our entertainment experience. Deliberately crippling premium products in awkward and arbitrary ways is not how you build a market. It’s just one more delay preventing us from reaching that rosy digital future we keep hearing about.

Meeting with Bob Rae

August 8, 2008

(A slightly different version of this report was also posted to the Fair Copyright for Canada, Toronto Chapter, Facebook group.)

At the Fair Copyright for Canada, Toronto Chapter, strategy session with Michael Geist, on July 24, attendees were broken into groups by riding, and asked to contact local MPs and speak with them in favor of amending Canada’s absurd Bill C-61 (essentially an ‘improved’ version of the US’ disastrous Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

This morning, Lukasz Kosewski and I met with Bob Rae, at his office on Parliament Street. Lukasz very eloquently presented the perspective of the open-source community, and its problems with highly restrictive legislation such as Bill C-61. (I’ve emailed him this report, and hope that he’ll expand with comments of his own.)

I attempted to present the point of view of the consumer electronics industry (which I cover in my day job as a technology journalist). My efforts met with only modest success. It seems that I was the very first person to actually present this perspective to Mr. Rae! He mentioned that ACTRA had been in to see him earlier that very morning, to plead for more copyright protection. But meanwhile, powerful companies such as Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Sharp and others – all of whom stand to lose bigtime from C-61 – are nowhere to be seen. Very odd.

My main point was that any gains for the content industry will be losses for the consumer electronics industry. The former is stable, whereas the latter is poised for explosive growth, given a halfway reasonable legal climate. I think I took Mr. Rae’s thinking about as far along this path as was possible from a standing start. But much more remains to be done. (I’ve attempted to spur consumer-electronics companies to action in my writings, and will continue to do so. I suspect these folks may be taking a needlessly deferential attitude to Big Content.)

Throughout our conversation, Mr. Rae’s stance seemed to be far less than enthusiastic to the points of view presented by Lukasz and myself. If I had to guess, I’d say that various parties from the content industry had been hitting him pretty hard. He spoke several times about the need to protect creators’ rights. When I noted that most of Canada’s prominent music creators seemed opposed to this type of legislation, he countered that only ‘some’ were opposed; others were not. (ACTRA was mentioned as an example of a creators’ body that at least generally favored the bill.)

On the other hand, Mr. Rae did speak very encouragingly about the need for “balance.” And he acknowledged that the playing field had changed in the Internet world. He also said that when the bill (likely) goes to committee, the Liberals would push for changes. He further suggested that a fall election was very possible, and that in that event, Bill C-61 would very likely go back on the drawing board, with time taken for proper consultation with all parties.

Anyway, huge thanks are due to Lukasz for persisting with Mr. Rae’s office over many days, in order to set up our half-hour chat. I believe we did move the ball a few feet, if not much more. Clearly, there’s a need to keep up the pressure. There’s a long way to go, even though Bob Rae has already spoken out in favor of amending C-61, and is theoretically on our side.

On a more positive note, I’d have to say that Lukasz and I both emerged from the meeting energized and quite a bit more aware of the political realities involved. I hope that other attendees of the Strategy Session are having at least equal success in setting up similar meetings. We’re really going to need to do a lot more of this, if our voices are going to be heard above all the others clamoring for attention.