FCC to Require Anti-Piracy Features in Digital TVs, VCRs

WASHINGTON–Spurred by the copyright issues raised in the Napster music case, federal regulators moved Thursday to prevent video piracy in the age of digital television. (Let the ELECTRONICHE GESTAPO reign supreme.)

WASHINGTON–Spurred by the copyright issues raised in the Napster music case, federal regulators moved Thursday to prevent video piracy in the age of digital television. (Let the ELECTRONICHE GESTAPO reign supreme.)

The Federal Communications Commission said it will require consumer electronics makers to include technology in their next generation of VCRs, televisions and set-top boxes that would prevent viewers from automatically copying digital cable TV shows. (Honest, we are not trying to take away your civic liberties, we just want you to have to pay out the nose for them, that’s all… hee hee 🙂

The agency also approved three new categories of digital TV sets labeled cable-ready that won’t be required to receive over-the-air digital broadcasts of TV shows such as “60 Minutes” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

But the consumer electronics makers, which have adamantly opposed copyright protection, say they are considering going to court to block the new FCC rules.

The manufacturers also said Thursday that if forced to comply, it would take them six to nine months to deliver equipment with the new piracy-prevention technology.

Some consumer watchdogs think that the FCC ruling, rather than solving an industry dispute, may have hurt the cause of digital TV.

“The whole world of digital TV is enormously muddied now,” said Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the Washington office of Consumers Union. “Much of what has been promised to consumers in the way of digital TV is far behind schedule. The regulators have so far been unable to untangle this mess. It’s been a real disappointment after all the hype.”

The new rules are aimed at settling a long-simmering dispute among Hollywood, the cable TV industry and television manufacturers. The FCC, program producers and cable operators want to prevent copying of digital video fare unless a cable or TV broadcaster chooses to make it available for copying.

This follows the uproar in the music industry over software programs such as Napster that allow consumers to share digital music freely.

The FCC hopes its new labeling rules will lead to a more uniform equipment standard that will make digital set-top boxes more widely available at consumer electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City.

“The labeling scheme being adopted will permit consumers to make well-informed decisions about [digital] equipment purchases based on a clear understanding of the capabilities of receivers with different labels,” the FCC said in a statement.

Two years ago, broadcasters began moving into digital TV, which offers a sharper picture and compact-disc-quality sound, in the nation’s biggest television markets, including Los Angeles. All the nation’s TV stations are expected to offer digital television by the end of the next decade. But so far, digital television is used in less than 1% of U.S. households.

Representatives of the cable industry and Hollywood studios applauded the FCC’s decision, saying it will help broaden the pool of available digital television programming now that the FCC has boosted protections.

But consumer groups, equipment makers and even some FCC commissioners said the new rules could lead to confusion among consumers and slow the adoption of digital technology that the FCC has been trying to jump-start for more than a decade.

“This decision strikes me as bizarre,” said Jeff Joseph, a vice president of the Consumer Electronics Assn. in Arlington, Va. Cable operators, he said, “could not only stop you from recording your HBO program, but they’re saying we are not going to let you view it either” unless you have TV equipment approved by the government.

Susan Ness, an FCC commissioner, also complained that the labeling standards were too closely tied to the cable industry and did not go far enough to inform consumers that future cable-ready TV sets may not be able to receive over-the-air digital signals. She said the rule seemed to run afoul of another FCC regulation that requires TV sets to be able to receive all freely available over-the-air TV signals.

“My fear is that the American consumer . . . walks away with a set that is fully capable of hooking up to cable but incapable of receiving any [over-the-air] signal,” Ness said.


News Service: LA Times

URL: http://www.latimes.com/business/20000915/t000086946.html

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