Hollywood Still Doesn’t ‘Get’ Technology Such As TiVo

Denise Howell has a nice write-up of a copyright discussion at the recent Tech Policy Summit over at ZDNet. The discussion panel included Patrick Ross (Executive Director, Copyright Alliance), Fred von Lohmann (Senior Staff Attorney, EFF), Matt Zinn (VP and general counsel, TiVo), and moderator Doug Lichtman of UCLA Law School. The discussion really highlighted how much Hollywood continues to miss the point with technological innovation and remains attached to their legacy business models. They repeatedly seek to stifle new invention and innovation which may threaten their existing models, instead of embracing it and finding a way to use it to their advantage. And it is really asinine, because they’ve been repeatedly wrong. The VCR didn’t kill television, it created a major new revenue stream – home video sales. No matter how hard they tried they couldn’t stop digital music and P2P, and they arguably made their situation much worse by not rushing in and establishing easy to use legal services (like iTunes or Amazon music sales) early on. If reasonably priced legal options had been available, it is likely that online piracy wouldn’t have exploded as it did in response to the content vacuum that existed. The content industry seems like their own worst enemy at times. Well, regularly actually.

Doug Lichtman suggested to Zinn that instead of developing a DVR that recorded copyright material they couldn’t sought out the content providers and asked permission to record the content and developed a box that the content providers would be happy with. Sure, we’ve seen some of what they’ve tried even with competition like TiVo on the market – talk of anyone who skips ads being ‘thieves’, looking to block the ability to fast-forward through ads, putting Do Not Copy flags on their content, setting timeouts to auto-delete digital content. I really don’t want to consider what a DVR designed to make Hollywood happy would be like. But I think it would’ve meant DVRs would’ve been DOA. Zinn put it well, as quoted by Howell:

Fortunately, the Constitution got it right. Copyrights are not absolute rights. TiVo did not have to go to the rightsholders for permission [to build a product that allows flexible use of lawfully acquired copyrighted content]. If they’d had to, there’d be no DVR. With no DVR, there’d be no VOD.

Even TiVo’s defiance of the content industry’s wishes has limits. TiVo does need to operate with the industry, and can’t afford to deal with constant lawsuits as beset ReplayTV, which took an even more antagonistic attitude toward content providers. TiVo ends up caught in the middle a lot of the time. Users, especially the zealots, tend to be upset with TiVo for not doing more – for putting TiVoGuard on TiVoToGo transfers, for encrypting MRV transfers, for obeying the Macrovision tags on recordings, etc. Some users want TiVo to carry the banner of open access and strip all the controls off of the content, despite that being a completely unrealistic approach and certain suicide. Various open source efforts may get away with breaking the rules, but they don’t have an easily-sued commercial entity for the industry to target. (And many of them do sensitive work off-shore in more friendly jurisdictions.)

Jay Williams of the MPAA, who was in the audience, also challenged Zinn that Tivo was was being philosophically inconsistent about intellectual property, due to TiVo’s patent battle victory with Echostar/Dish Network, suggesting that the patents were also barriers to innovation. In reply, Zinn highlighted one of the issues TiVo faces:

Zinn replied that TiVo goes out of its way to satisfy rightsholders that copyrighted material cannot readily be transferred out of someone’s home or to someone else.

It’s interminably slow to transfer material from one TiVo box to another in your home, because of all the encryption we’re using at the insistence of the rightsholders.

That might be a little hyperbole, a lot of the speed issues with MRV are due to the hardware – transfers on the Series3 and TiVo HD, which have more power, are faster. But the encryption certainly does slow things down. If they could do a straight file transfer without worrying about protecting it from sniffing, it would speed things up. But TiVo’s tactics have been to push the boundaries bit by bit, while doing their best to shield themselves from reprisal. Instead of trying to push the industry into rapid change, which would just trigger a backlash, they’ve slowly and steadily stretched what is allowed.

The full article is worth a read for a better understanding of the kind of mindset companies like TiVo are up against when trying to innovate in the entertainment industry. The entrenched mindset reacts negatively to any disruptive influence, and goes to extremes to stop it.

I caught this write-up thanks to Thomas Hawk’s mention at Seeking Alpha.

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  • ADIDAIllini

    This all reminds of the United States automotive labor unions. UAW members had it good. They had high paying jobs, their retirement was taken care of, and best of all they didn’t have to spend a lot of money going to college. There is a generation of children of UAW workers that just assumed they would have jobs when they got out of high school. Then the landscape changed and it all came crashing down. The union wouldn’t throw any of their cargo overboard for the sake of saving the ship, and now the whole ship is sinking. Because no one wanted to change when change was needed everything went to crap. Hollywood may soon find the same thing happening to you.