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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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December 12, 2003

Fight the Broadcast Flag - Give TiVos as Holiday Presents This Year

Posted by Ernest Miller

Using a TiVo is a conversion experience. It transforms the way you interact with broadcast media and creates entirely new expectations regarding entertainment, even more so, in many ways, than MP3 players. This is why I am excited by a number of reports this week regarding personal media recorders, such as a story in Newsday that notes a high demand for DirecTV set-top boxes that include TiVo (TiVo-Based Set-Top Boxes in High Demand).

I'm excited because everyone I know who uses TiVo won't go back to traditional television viewing. Simply using TiVo creates consumer expectations that are going to run smack dab into the anti-consumer mandates of the broadcast flag. Sure, the FCC says that the broadcast flag won't inhibit uses consumers have today, but it does and will. People habituated to the ease of use of TiVo, of burning shows to DVD, of networking television throughout the home, are in for a rude awakening when the broadcast flag takes effect. Frankly, there are going to be some seriously inconvenienced consumers come July 2005 and I would hate to be the politician on the other end of their anger. I can see the bumper stickers now: The FCC can have my TiVo when the pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Of course, the more people habituated to TiVo, the bigger the resulting backlash, which is why I recommend giving TiVos as holiday gifts for all your TiVo-less friends and family (there is a good chance it will be the best gift they get this season). I'm not really a big believer in consumerism ... but sometimes consumerism and activitism go hand in hand.

Of course, I'm using TiVo in the generic sense. Add the homemade touch (like those holiday cards you made from posterboard, glue and sparkles in elementary school) by building your friends an open source TiVo (Freevo, MythTV, KnoppMyth, XMLTV). By the way, MythTV explicitly supports the pcHDTV card and undoubtedly will support software HDTV as well (GNU Radio: Hacking the RF Spectrum with Free Software and Hardware).

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcast Flag | Tools


1. Cypherpunk on December 12, 2003 10:10 AM writes...

First of all, you're right about TiVo. I consider myself a videophile and early adopter, but since I got TiVo three years ago I won't even think about going to HDTV until the same functionality is available.

But are you right about the broadcast flag being incompatible with this functionality? I googled on "broadcast flag time shifting" and the first hit was which says, "One of the biggest myths about the broadcast flag is that TV networks are pushing the flag to end time-shifting and to force viewers to watch the commercials." According to this article I will still have my TiVo functionality even with the BF.

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2. Ernest Miller on December 12, 2003 11:22 AM writes...

Basic TiVo functionality for HDTV will probably work. However, it is highly questionable how files will be shared even on a home network. I don't simply want to record on my TiVo, I want to be able to archive broadcasts for later viewing as well as take them with me, such as catch up on those Law & Order episodes on my laptop while flying. It isn't at all clear how expectations of that sort will be met by the FCC's broadcast flag ruling, if at all.

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3. seaan on December 12, 2003 12:10 PM writes...

I read the slate article too, but it (like the FCC press release) contained a lot of contradictory statements. There seems to be a lot of "magic" thinking at the FCC, that some new technology will come along and enable them to fulfill the promises they made.

As an expert in this area, I'm positive that they won't be able to get the protections they promised, without breaking much of their pro-consumer promises. The real question to my mind, is which promises will they break?

In the best of worlds, once they figured out they could not develop the system as promised; they would not do anything, and just note they can't accomplish their objectives with today's technology. Based on past actions, it is much more likely they will break the pro-consumer promises. They will realize that there are too many complicated trade-offs, so they will leave it up to the industry to "self-regulate" (conveniently ignoring that the fact that the government has already intervened in the market).

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