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Warner Brothers to FCC: When We Say SOC Is Necessary, We Mean Not Necessary

November 4, 2009 , , , ,

As the Selectable Output Control (SOC) battle continues here in Washington, Public Knowledge just sent a letter to the FCC pointing out that movie studios are doing some of the best work to show why SOC just doesn’t make sense.

As you may recall, the entire point of SOC is to allow movie studios to release movies via Video on Demand (VoD) prior to the DVD release. The MPAA claims that without SOC protection, the VoD releases (which, unlike DVDs, are not protected and therefore theoretically easier to copy) would immediately be used to make perfect copies available to pirates. These perfect copies would destroy the market for DVDs, and ultimately destroy Hollywood. SOC protection would allow studios to protect VoD distribution and therefore save Hollywood. This would let them make movies available to the “very broad array” of the physically challenged, elderly, and/or parents of small children who are both unable to watch a movie in a theater and unable to wait for the DVD release.

MPAA’s Argument Is Undermined By Reality

Putting aside the obvious problems with the MPAA’s argument – digital copies of films are available for free online as soon as movies are released in theaters (if not earlier), breaking over 20 million HDTVs (plus an untold number of other consumer electronic devices such as A/V receivers) is probably not worth moving up the home movie release date by a week or two, it is likely that security features on VoD will prove about as effective as security features on DVDs in preventing piracy, people seem willing to buy DVDs after the first day of their release when perfect digital DVD copies are available online – there is the problem that the MPAA’s argument is not even internally consistent. Studios are already releasing movies on VoD before DVD without SOC protection.

For years, studios like Magnolia Pictures and distributors like IFC have been distributing movies through VoD well before DVD release (in some cases, even before theatrical release). More recently, Starz Media joined the VoD-before-DVD party.

Even An MPAA Member Studio Is Not Waiting For SOC

For whatever reason, the studios that make up the MPAA have traditionally chosen to dismiss the above examples as irrelevant to their SOC petition. However, now it is clear that they were paying closer attention than they may have let on.

In September Warner Brothers, an MPAA member and signatory to the original SOC petition (the same petition that claimed that releasing content on VoD before DVD “necessarily would require a higher level of protection against copyright theft than is currently permissible”) released Observe and Report, as well as Ghosts of Girlfriends Past on VoD before the DVD release. It turns out that releasing content on VoD before DVD does not necessarily require a waiver from SOC rules.

So, why should the FCC grant the MPAA its SOC waiver? Magnoila Pictures does not think it is necessary. IFC does not think it is necessary. Starz Media does not think it is necessary. The owners of 20 million HDTVs do not think it is necessary. Not even Warner Brothers thinks it is necessary. Public Knowledge’s answer is that it shouldn’t. The MPAA has not put forth a single piece of compelling evidence to show that SOC is required to do anything other than break TVs. There is no reason for the FCC to help with that.