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Selectable Output Control is a technology mandate promoted by movie studios to protect the “early” distribution of movies over cable television. It’s a battle over the video outputs on the back of your cable box or DVR. Who gets to control which outputs you can use—the movie studios or you? On May 7, 2010 the FCC decided that the answer to that question is the movie studios, not you.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to engage in “selectable output control” (SOC). Now that the FCC has granted this permission, the MPAA and the movie studios it represents (Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers) is able to “turn off” any analog output plug they choose, like those on the back of consumer electronics devices of an entertainment system, during special video-on-demand movies on cable television for 90 days . Public Knowledge opposed SOC and along with Consumer Federation of America, Digital Freedom Campaign, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, and U.S. PIRG, has filed comments urging the FCC to deny the MPAA’s request.
Watch the following video which provides an overview of the issue:
Over the course of the SOC debate, we created a number of videos discussing the issues.
Harold took two different 5 minutes to discuss the issue.
Mr. X-Parte also detailed to blow-by-blow
And interviewed people outside of Washington who will be directly impacted by this decision.
What does this mean for me?
Use a TiVo, any Slingbox, or a TV manufactured before 2004
Connect your TV to your cable box with analog cables (either component or composite)
Have a TV without a digital connection, such as HDMI
you will likely have to replace much if not all of your existing entertainment system to watch these movies.
Why would movie studios want to do that?
Right now, the MPAA and movie studios let you rent a video-on-demand (VoD) movie on cable only after it has already come out on DVD. They won’t release the movies to VoD earlier, because they’re afraid that they won’t make any money from DVD sales if people can copy the movie at home.
If you are making copies in order to watch them at a different time or place, like on a Tivo or Slingbox, this is a legal kind of copying. So is making short copies to educate, poke fun at, or criticize. You can make copies at home for personal use by using analog outputs because they don’t have copy protection on them. However, most digital plugs, like HDMI, do have copy protection. The MPAA wants to make sure that if they give you the “privilege” of watching the movie at home, you won’t copy it and replace a purchase the DVD. SOC turns off the analog outputs, and only lets you use plugs with copy protection.
How will I know whether I am affected?
The MPAA has made assurances that cable companies will warn its customers that certain cable channels can only be viewed if you have the correct equipment, but they have been very vague about how they will do this.
That doesn’t sound so bad. I just watch movies, I don’t write reviews or make copies.
The MPAA’s request is so vaguely written that it would allow them to turn off all the other plugs on your cable box. Although the FCC's order does attempt to limit this power by restricting SOC to analog outputs, Video on Demand content, and a 90 day window, it is unclear how it will play out when deals are actually struck. Then, you would have to buy a new TV with an “MPAA-approved” output plug if you want to watch on-demand movies before they come out on DVD.
Although this sounds like an incredibly silly idea, Sony released a product in 2007 that lets you watch internet movies on your TV. At that time, they announced that you can watch Hancock on VoD distributed over the Internet before it comes out on DVD. The only way to receive this content is through a Sony Internet device that connects to a special plug only available on a Sony TV. Sony is a studio and member of the MPAA.
We think that when you pay for a movie, you should be able to watch it on any TV you want on your device of choice. It’s fundamentally wrong for someone else to tell you when, where, and how you watch it.