What a cool new device Apple has made us all lust over! Again! Not only is it thinner than the previous generation of iPods, it sports a wider color screen capable of playing back video. And you can download select TV shows from the iTunes Music Store. Now on the way to work, I can watch Lost and find all the clues that I’ve missed the night before.

Of course, the video playback is not limited to the TV shows, there are pleanty of video podcasts (FYI: that’s an iTunes link) for you to select from—I usually watch Rocketboom while eating lunch at my desk. And then there’s all the videos I already own.

I have a few movies on VHS that I could do a an “A-to-D” conversion on—digitally record to my computer using an EyeTV or just my regular firewire camcorder as a pass-thru. It’d take some time, but it could be done.

And of course, my DVD collection. Since those are just discs with digital video files on them. It should be easy enough to down-convert them on my computer to the proper resolution for the iPod. And it is pretty easy. Sheesh, it only took two days for a tutorial to be put on a very popular blog.

But, unlike all the video content (both analog and digital) listed before, it’s illegal to digitally copy this DVD video content to your new iPod. We all know why. Sure, you could copy the video from the analog out, then copy it back digitally, then down-rez it. A “D-to-A-to-D” conversion, if you will.

Does anyone else think this is absurd? You own the content. You own the device. And you’re not doing anything illegal with the content under traditional copyright law.

Thankfully, some other folks do to. One in particular is U.S. Representative Rick Boucher, of Virginia. This is not hot news, but he’s got a bill in Congress that essentially says if you’re not doing it for otherwise infringing purposes, it’s not illegal to conduct fair use.

If it were to pass, you wouldn’t be breaking the law while watching your DVDs on your iPod, on the way to work. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

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Broadcast Flag Action Alert

October 6, 2005 Blog Posts, Broadcast Flag, Policy Blog

In case you haven’t noticed, PK posted an action alert on the broadcast flag. You might be asking yourself, “Self, what new legislation has been introduced on the broadcast flag to warrant me calling my legislator to tell him or her about the broadcast flag?”

Good question! You’re right, there hasn’t been a bill introduced with the broadcast flag on it. Yet. And that’s what it’s really about. We work in Washington, DC. Part of our job is keeping our ear to the ground and looking for the writing on the wall.

Well, we heard what was going on a few months ago in the Appropriations Committee, alerted you, and you called in droves. And guess what? The broadcast flag didn’t make it onto a spending bill. Nice job!

The reasons for some of the pre-emptive action alerts are manyfold. Here are just a few reasons:

  • To educate legislators on the specific issue.

  • To let them know that there may be other angles to this issue, and that the issue is potentially controversial.

  • To make them aware that a part of their constituency cares enough to write them a letter.

As for the current broadcast flag status, the current potential vehicle is the DTV transition bill. In the Senate, we’ve heard that there will be two bills: A spectrum / budget oriented one (less controversial) and a policy oriented one (more controversial). The policy DTV bill will probably contain issues like DTV converter box subsidy language, broadcast flag language, HD-radio protection, etc.

Apparently MPAA and RIAA have teamed up. They are rumored to be pushing their “flags” together, and wanting broad FCC authority for both. By broad, we mean something broader than “The FCC has the authority to reinstate the broadcast flag.”

So, that’s the low-down and why we ask you to contact your legislators.

Again, you can find a link to the broadcast flag action here.

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Concerning HD-radio protection

October 6, 2005 Blog Posts, DRM, Policy Blog

What’s HD-radio protection? Well, that’s the other part of the rumors that we’re hearing. A while ago, the RIAA asked the FCC to have a proceeding on protecting the new high definition digital radio format, soon to be rolled out. This new format not only sends higher-quality sound, but also sends metadata, or song info, for what’s currently playing on the radio. The RIAA is claiming that consumers will buy these HD-radio receivers, connect them to their computers, using the metadata set them up to record complete albums of artists, and then send these “high quality recordings” onto the Internet. This boils down to: “If you don’t cripple this new technology, people will use it to infringe.”

I will ignore the argument made that instead of allowing consumers to record off the radio, they want to have a “buy button” on every radio.

Of course, there are lots of holes that can be poked into the RIAA’s theory:

  • When was the last time you heard a radio station actually play multiple tracks of an artist’s album? It just doesn’t happen.

  • There is currently more variety of music traded over the Internet than the legitimate online music services can even legally license. If someone was already planning to infringe by recording off the radio and sharing the songs on the Internet, why would anyone bother to pay the money to setup this elaborate recording system, when they could likely find and download it over the Internet?

The FCC essentially told the RIAA, “no.” So they’ve gone to Congress to tell the FCC to do it.

What is “it?” Good question. One of the latest RIAA draft language requires broadcasters to ” encrypt the transmission of copyrighted material” and make sure that devices are compliant. Think of any potential problems with that? Under the DMCA, is encryption an access or copy control? What if I want to record a talk radio program and save it to my iPod? What if there’s a news story that I want to send to friend? Fair uses with digital radio are probably out the window—not because the technology disallows it, but because the law does.

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So there is quite a bit going on on the Hill that PK has its hands in, let’s take a look at some of the issues:

  • Broadcast Flag and Digital Audio Flag: All the Hill is abuzz on rumors about the broadcast flag—again. The thing just won’t die. This time, it sounds like the MPAA is pairing up with the RIAA to push a super-flag bill in the Senate Commerce Committee. The MPAA wants Congress to authorize the FCC to implement a broadcast flag scheme, but they leave it open as to exactly what “regulation” gets implemented. What would happen if it was the broadcast flag, but without the 13 incompatible “approved technologies,” or if MPAA was part of the approval process? The RIAA wants to add a provision that the FCC itself ended-up slapped down to allow for copy-protected digital radio—a broadcast audio flag—if you will. The vehicle for all of this is rumored to be a separate DTV bill. More on that later…

  • Senate Grokster Hearing: The Senate Judiciary will finally be getting back to that hearing on Grokster they originally scheduled before the US Supreme Court nominations. It hasn’t been posted to their website yet, but it’s supposed to take place next Wednesday, Sept. 28. There will likely be a webcast, so keep your eyes on the Senate Judiciary website if you want to look in on it. No official witness list, yet.

  • Telecom Bill: I’ve posted on it here and here, but the Telecom Bill will be the big issue for at least the next year.

  • Trademark Dilution: The issue of dilution of a trademark is an interesting one, that many don’t know about. If you start with the basics of trademark—a system rooted in consumer protection as opposed to copyright or patent which stems from promoting innovation by establishing limited monopolies for creators and inventors—then you should really question the concept of dilution. Trademark is supposed to be used to prevent consumer confusion. The theory of dilution changes traditional trademark law by asking if the use of a mark, even in non-competitive markets, causes the mark to lose its association with a singular source or company, regardless of consumer confusion. Learn more about HR 683: The Trademark Dilution Revision Act of 2005. Here’s what the US Supreme Court had to say on the issue.

  • WIPO Broadcast Treaty: Although PK hasn't had much action in the international sphere, we want to point your attention to EFF's action on the WIPO's Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations. You can find out more about it here

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On the way to work, I listen to podcasts on my trusty 3G 20GB iPod. One of the more interesting ones I’ve subscribed to is the Gilmore Gang.

I’ve had to catch up on some of my Gillmore Gang listening, and unfortunately I missed the September 2, 2005 podcast titled “Municipal Gang.” This weeks gang consisted of Chris Nolan of Politics from Left to Right and and the usuals folks: Dan Farber, Dana Gardner, Doc Searls, and Mike Vizard.

The topic discussed was, as you probably have guessed by now, municipal wifi. If you don’t know by now, it’s a topic that Public Knowledge is very interested in—see our “Spread Wifi” page.

The discussion was pre-telecommunications draft, but the gang came to the issue from a fresh start. They really seem to understand the problems with the “free market,” calling it a market made up of two incumbent monopolies. They also understand how broadband over Wifi can level the market—by providing consumers and businesses another way to generate new content, communicate, and do business.

They asked a number of good questions, perhaps most importantly, how do we make things happen politically. They were more concerned about Presidential platforms (which is still a ways out), but I bet if this podcast discussion was had after the telecom draft, it would have focussed on how to sway legislators to do the “right thing.”

So how do we get this ball moving in the “right direction?” I think as a reader of this blog, your best bet is to start at the local level. We need to be telling people about the benefits of Wifi. Spread that information to your friends, blog it, maybe even write an op-ed in your local newspaper. Get your Mayor or city council interested in it— by explaining muni-wifi's benefits and low costs.

Maybe municipally funded Wifi isn’t the answer for your town, but having the debate is important.

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In case you haven’t read the news lately, The House Energy and Commerce Committee has put out its first draft of the upcoming telecommunications re-write. Here is a preliminary run-down on this generally pro-consumer bill:

  • Ensuring an Open Internet: The draft bill ensures that consumers can reach the web sites of their choice, run applications, and attach the devices they want to use. It also includes an exception permitting network operators to manage their networks and provide their own video applications. It’s unclear whether this exception could swallow the rule at the moment, so it could stand some tightening up.

  • Municipal Broadband: The draft bill preempts state law as far as muni-broadband goes. State law, under this new scheme, can’t block municipalities from providing broadband networks, as long as those cities refrain from favoring themselves over other users of the rights-of-way. This is handled similarly to the McCain-Lautenberg bill and certainly goes hand-in-hand with Public Knowledge’s promotion of Muni-Wifi.

  • Consumer Protections: The draft bill directs the FCC to setup national consumer protection standards for VOIP, Broadband Internet Transmission, and Broadband Video Service providers. These protections are to cover late fees, early termination fees, purchase and/or lease of subscriber equipment, privacy notifications, spam, indecency, disability access, etc.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the bill, but it looks promising. Especially since the draft bill tends to support PK’s "Principles for an Open Broadband Future."

Have any questions or comments about the bill? Please post them below.

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No Spending for Flag

September 20, 2005 Blog Posts, Broadcast Flag, Policy Blog

When we last mentioned the broadcast flag…you’ll remember that PK along with the EFF asked you to call into Senate Appropriators to make sure they didn’t do anything with the broadcast flag behind closed doors. Specifically, we were concerned that the Senate Appropriations Committee would authorize the FCC to instate the broadcast flag scheme. That bill, the CJS Appropriations bill H.R. 2862 (a bill that sets out spending for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State) passed the Committee and headed to the Senate floor for amendments and final passage.

At the end of last week, a number of amendments were made to H.R. 2862. On the floor, there’s no real telling what might happen. There’s very little process and occasionally, “non-germaine” amendments (read: unrelated amendments that really have no business being included on a bill) get attached.

Well, the bill passed the Senate on Thursday, but it has taken some time to find out exactly what the amendments actually said. After having gone through the bill and amendments, we can say that we’ve all dodged another bullet and the CJS Appropriations Bill is Broadcast Flag free!

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Getting real about the Grokster case

February 8, 2005 News, News & Analysis, P2P

Over the next few months, the Supreme Court and--likely--Congress will resume a debate over rules that could determine whether consumers will continue to enjoy the benefits of many of the gadgets CNET covers.

The debate is specifically about what kind of legal liability--if any--technology manufacturers, financiers, Internet service providers, journalists and others should have if their actions "induce" another to commit copyright infringement.

By: Gigi Sohn, CNET

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For Immediate Release

Background: The Senate late in its weekend session passed by unanimous consent S 3021, a shorter version of the omnibus copyright legislation (HR 2391) that had been introduced earlier in the session.

Statement of Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge:

Consumers won a major victory when the Senate passed legislation removing the most egregious elements of the omnibus copyright bill that had previously been under consideration. We strongly support the version of the Family Movie Act, included in the bill, which gives families more control over how they watch movies and television, preserving the right to skip over commercials. The bill will benefit consumers, both in their entertainment choices now, and from the innovation in technology that will result in coming years.

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While enforcing the Copyright Act and preventing copyright infringement are worthy goals, Representative Berman's Peer-to-Peer Self-Help bill goes too far. Rep. Berman's bill gives the content industry great latitude to engage in harmful behavior that could affect lawful consumer activities, as well as unlawful behavior.

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