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The latest MPAA diatribe about Selectable Output Control is notable for two reasons. First, it utterly fails to demonstrate that anybody steals content through the analog hole or that giving the MPAA the ability to shut off both analog and protected digital outputs would have any impact at all on piracy. Second, by attacking Public Knowledge and specifically Harold's integrity, it is a not-so-subtle effort to spin the debate over this waiver as "copyleft" Public Knowledge versus "reasonable" Hollywood, which only wants this itsy bitsy waiver so that it can provide the "pro-consumer" benefit of making movies available on video on demand a few weeks earlier than they are now.
We'll address the first point when we file a response in the next week or so. I want to address the second. While doubtless Public Knowledge has been the public interest leader in opposing the MPAA's waiver, it is hardly the only party which has been active or expressed serious concern about the negative impact of the waiver should the FCC grant it. MPAA's filing doesn't even mention the objections of the Consumer Electronics Association (except for mere citation to a letter in a footnote) or the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA). CEA objects to the waiver for many of the same reasons as Public Knowledge; for example, allowing the MPAA to shut off analog outputs will leave over 20 million TV sets and downstream devices like Slingbox unable to receive the MPAA's content. But CEA is equally concerned that such a waiver will give the MPAA's members unprecedented control over the design, functions, and features of lawful consumer electronics. CEA also fears that when millions of consumers unexpectedly lose the ability to receive the same content that their neighbors can (regardless of their willingness to pay for it), it will make them leery about buying devices in the future - how can they be assured that these new devices will be able to receive all programming?
That MPAA ignores IFTA's objections is not surprising, because it further undercuts their claims that preventing piracy makes this waiver necessary. IFTA represents the larger independent filmmakers - filmmakers who have won more than 60% of the Best Picture Oscars over the past 27 years. IFTA takes a backseat to no one when seeking policy and other solutions to rampant piracy, which affects their members every bit as much as MPAA's. But it recognizes that this waiver is not about piracy, but is about MPAA's members using the regulatory process to gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. As the organization said in a November 10 letter to Chairman Genachowski:
IFTA is a strong advocate for copyright protection, however, the mere assertion of piracy by those who stand to benefit financially should not automatically justify compromising market access for independent content and broader programming choices for consumers. The MPAA has to articulate how the potential anti-piracy benefits from SOC outweigh the public's interest in options for programming.
[Emphasis in original]
But the opposition hardly stops there. A dozen leading public interest organizations filed a letter opposing the SOC waiver earlier month. They were joined this week by Consumers Union and Free Press. In addition, over 2400 individuals have filed oppositions to the waiver with the FCC. That is a remarkable number when you consider how technical this issue is.
But if you want to get the best picture of how "pro-consumer" actual consumers think the MPAA's idea is, read some of the leading tech and consumer blogs and particularly the comments that follow. Ars Technica discusses it here, here and here. The Washington Post, Gizmodo, TechDirt and the Consumerist have also weighed in. The overwhelming consensus? Nothing is "pro-consumer" about the MPAA allowing consumers to do less with their television sets and consumer electronics devices.
The MPAA can try all it wants to ignore the record at the FCC and in the court of public opinion and spin this debate as Public Knowledge v. MPAA. A far more accurate title would be MPAA v. The Public.