Do not adjust your television. The MPAA is controlling transmission.

If you’ve never seen the intro (original/new) to the TV show “The Outer Limits” then perhaps now is the time. Be sure to have the sound up:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission…

Perhaps if the intro was written today, it would say, “There is nothing wrong with your television set. But do not attempt to view our movies. The MPAA is controlling transmission.”

As Jon Law wrote on our blog last month, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has asked the FCC to let it selectively turn off different types of connectors in viewers' homes. This technology, called "Selectable Output Control," lets the creators and distributors of video pick and choose which video connectors will display their content -- and which will not. The MPAA claims that in order to move release dates for Video-on-Demand (VoD) earlier than they are now (and before DVDs) they need this added control over your home electronics.

Yesterday, we, along with CFA, DFC, EFF, MAP, NAF, and U.S. PIRG submitted Comments to the FCC opposing the MPAA’s petition. We have three basic problems with it:

Consumers Will Be Harmed In The (Non-)Displaying of this Film

Consumers expect that when they spend a lot of money on high definition television equipment, DVRs, Slingboxes, and home theater setups, they will be able to display all high definition content for the foreseeable future. They don't expect that when movie companies choose to change their release dates, their setups will suddenly stop working.

The MPAA was pretty vague about what would happen to those people who rely on analog/component connections for high definition video. In the best case scenario, they simply will not have the option to order the movies as their neighbors -- neighbors who have the same cable service and same hardware but just use different cables. At worst, they will order a high definition movie, only to find that the display is blank.

If the MPAA gets their way, at minimum 11 million people will be cut off from these services. But no big deal, right? I mean, the others are getting stuff sooner!

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

In its petition (and, indeed, anywhere), MPAA failed to provide any evidence that this kind of control was needed to prevent copyright infringement. We've learned from iTunes and Amazon that if you offer content legally, conveniently, and in an unrestricted way, people will buy it rather than pirate it. Disney CEO Robert Iger said it himself: "The best way to combat piracy is to bring content to market on a well-timed, well-priced basis." So why do they need this control? Read on...

The MPAA Is Controlling Transmission. And Reception. And Use.

The MPAA's petition asks not only for the ability to turn off analog or unprotected digital connections. It asks for the ability to turn of any connection on a per-work basis. But why would they want to turn off other connections? Check out Sony's release of Hancock on its (otherwise cool) Bravia Internet service for a peek into a possible future. Sony is releasing Hancock to users of its Internet service before it goes out on DVD or VoD. However, only owners of a compatible Sony television will be able to use that box, because the movie will only go out of the box over the proprietary Sony "DMeX" connection.

What would happen if the MPAA decided to turn off all connections except for a proprietary MPAA one for new release movies? What if it then used its ability to license that connector as leverage? What kind of rules could it set for what your television could or could not do? Do you think you'd be able to use that connection with cool devices like a Slingbox?

I don't usually consider myself part of the tinfoil hat crowd, but I do know that I don't want media companies dictating what type of connections my television has and what I can do with the content I have legally acquired. Consumer electronics companies should be free to innovate and make their decisions based on what reasonable consumers want and what makes technological sense -- not based on what the upstream content owners demand. But with Selectable Output Control in hand, the MPAA might be able to put a stop to that.

We'll let you know what happens as this proceeding moves forward. For more information, check out our press release or read the filing itself.

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