Thursday, May 19, 2005

Who needs TV copy protection?

They say that film companies won't allow their material to be shown on Digital and High Definition TV unless the system is so locked-down and controlled that copies can't be made (or you can't skip the trailers and the ads, or your films expire automatically, or your cheap imported films won't play, or whatever anti-customer scam they dream up next).

Therefore, so they tell us, we need to build in controls over what we can do with the TVs and films we buy! Studios delayed the release of movies on DVD until they got what they wanted - so we have to give in over digital and high-definition content too!

But it's rubbish, and here's why!

DVD offered only small improvements over video. There was little real incentive at the time for consumers to move.

But the move to Digital TV will happen whether consumers like it or not -- because the analogue signal will be turned off in a couple of years. There will be no "video option" where the studios can stick with the safe, old system till they get what they want from the new one. If they don't move to digital they'll start losing money right away. Their whole TV revenue stream will dry up overnight!

Similarly, when consumers have HDTVs and broadcasters like the BBC are broadcasting sports, and their own news and drama (and celebrity house makeovers, I suppose) in stunning detail, viewers won't want low definition movies to buy or rent. There will be a huge market for the real, high-definition thing, which content suppliers won't want to ignore.

So in both cases, the studios are bluffing. Economics will force them to move to the new formats, whether they get their anti-consumer restrictions or not!It's just a matter of who blinks first - consumer advocates and legislators, or the content providers.

In the end, broadcast flags and the like only make it more difficult to copy video - not impossible. There WILL be copies, whatever technology is used. The "we have to stop piracy" argument is mostly bogus - an excuse to demand more control.

Studios won't long be able to resist the lure of selling their content to digital broadcasters when the analogue broadcasts have stopped.

And they can't afford to miss out on selling or renting their films ALL OVER AGAIN to broadcasters and consumers when HDTV finally arrives and people lose interest in low-resolution, indistinct, small-screen stuff, and demand crystal-clear, high-definition, surround-sound TV.

Any loss of revenue from limited copying by consumers is a cost of doing business, and large scale copying by pirates will continue to be a law enforcement matter. The sky will not collapse! We just need to call the studios' bluff!

Stand up for yourself! Disney won't!


liberranter said...


Beautifully stated!

It should be obvious to everyone by now (especially the film and recording industry) just how trite a red herring the "revenue loss" argument is in regard to digital copying. The same argument was launched during the early 80s as the VCR gained in popularity and again ten-fifteen years later as DVDs supplanted VCRs in the market. The result? A net gain of hundreds of millions of dollars for the movie and music industry as consumer demaned continued to rise for new artistic product.

No, the only logical reason for the insistant on anti-piracy measures is control of consumer choices. But, as we've seen with every other technology to emerge (computers and software being the perfect example), any anti-copying, anti-piracy techology will be easily overcome in a short time by those with the creative energy to experiment.

Paul said...

Thanks! You're right that these controls are about limiting what consumers can do. Professional pirates can always find a way round such measures.

The problem is that the technical measures that limit what users can do go way beyond the law, and prevent perfectly legal things.

I remember trying to use my DVD Player on my parents' TV a christmas or so ago. No luck - wrong connnector. So I thought I'd play it through the video, which had matching connectors for the TV and DVD player.

Unfortunately, the macrovision "copy-protection" feature cut in, and prevented me from watching the films I'd bought on my parents' TV.

Because they assume that all their customers are criminals (but not sophisticated ones), we all must suffer.

It's not good enough - and we certainly don't need more of the same sort of nonsense in the Digital TV world!