Saturday, May 04, 2002

Just because a thing can be done
does not mean it should be done

When I wrote "Now it all makes sense", I thought I was just being snarky. It appears I'm coming late to a revolution, and they really mean it.

SonicBlue ordered to track ReplayTV users' viewing choices
A federal magistrate in Los Angeles has ordered SonicBlue to spy on thousands of digital video recorder users -- monitoring every show they record, every commercial they skip and every program they send electronically to a friend.
...The plaintiffs asked SonicBlue to turn over information on how individuals use the recording devices. SonicBlue said it does not track that information. The magistrate, who is supervising discovery, ordered the company to write software in the next 60 days that would record every "click'' from every customer's remote control.
..."We've been ordered to invade the privacy of our customers,'' said Ken Potashner, SonicBlue's chairman and chief executive. "This is something that we find personally very troubling.''

[Emphasis above is mine.] "Troubling" does not begin to say it.

Four separate lawsuits focus on a pair of features on the ReplayTV 4000: an "AutoSkip'' function that allows the device to bypass commercials while recording a program and a high-speed Internet port that allows users to download programs from the Internet or send them to other ReplayTV 4000 users.

[Again, emphasis mine.] Actually, according to Den Beste, it records the whole program and removes commercials on playback, not while recording, and since he has one, I tend to believe him. But it's the removal of commercials, no matter how it happens, that has got the networks in such a panic, and they're trying to make it not merely illegal, but impossible, to do it. "In other words," he continues, "they're trying to ban scissors because they might be used to clip articles out of magazines."

Unfortunately for us "consumers", Den Beste's analogy fails at a crucial point: Broadcast media have never been governed by the same rules. They don't even have the fundamental first amendment protection that newspapers so proudly wrap themselves in. Broadcasters, for example, have to satisfy the FCC periodically that they are "acting in the public interest" or lose their license. Print media face no comparable threat.

We lost the VCR copy-protection battle. We lost the DVD copy-protection battle. We lost the DVD region-scheme battle. We're about to lose our right to hit fast-forward during the commercials.

Where is it, where is it... Ah, one of Den Beste's readers found the quote.

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or a corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute nor common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back, for their private benefit.

It's from Robert A Heinlein's first published story, "Life-Line".

(See also Den Beste, Boing Boing, PhotoDude, and I'm sure dozens of other pages.)

No comments: