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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Matt Haughey raps it out....

This just bites!  Not much I can add so just read and weep.

TiVo: you can only innovate if the NFL and MPAA say so

Today's Washington Post carries a jaw-dropping article about TiVo's latest fight [via waxy]. Tivo ToGo was announced at CES in January of this year, with a planned Fall release, but if the Movie Industry and the NFL get their way, it will never see the light of day.

What is most shocking about the objections is that TiVo ToGo is an already crippled version of something TiVo hackers and users of software PVRs like Windows Media Center and Snapstream have been doing for years now. See that huge ugly plastic dongle pictured in the upper right? That's your user "key" that makes sure only your TiVo programs can play on your PC or laptop. I haven't seen or tested this functionality out, but I'm sure those programs are encrypted to the point that they are unplayable on any device that doesn't also have the hardware key plugged in. I wouldn't be surprised if the video format is a proprietary one as well. TiVo is also talking about adding a show swapping feature, which is great news, but you will have a limit of ten other devices that you can share with (ReplayTV used to let you swap with an unlimited amount of other users, which got them sued until they went bankrupt and removed it).

Simply put, compared to how Microsoft's offerings work, and a slew of small software packages for the PC and Mac that record TV, the TiVo ToGo feature is a crippled lockbox. You won't be sharing shows on Kazaa anytime soon with TiVo ToGo features.

The NFL and MPAA are attacking both the show extraction feature, claiming it will allow programs to propigate online, and the show sharing features, claiming TiVo owners will share them with more than their friends. Their nightmare scenario is that maybe, possibly, someday someone you don't know might ask for a copy of an obscure program you happened to have recorded and saved. Oh, the horror of it all!

For no other reason than it points out how insane this is, here are some priceless quotes:

TiVo was one of 13 companies that asked the FCC for approval, arguing that its copy-protection system met the requirements. The Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's lobbying arm, and the NFL then filed objections to TiVo's plan.

First off, how much does is suck that TiVo can't just think of new features and build them, but they have to ask for permission from the FCC? Can't a company innovate without asking everyone if it is ok first? Also, why is the MPAA and NFL going after TiVo when Microsoft's Media Center Edition allows you to not only share your programs with other PCs and laptops, but it also spawned an entire market for portable TV devices like this one? Where were the movie industry goons when those products were announced and released?

This other quote puts a light on how screwed up the NFL is:

The NFL, meanwhile, is concerned that a user could send a copy of a game to someone in another time zone, where the game is blacked out.

Only the NFL would go so far out of their way to make sure their most ardent fans can't see the football games they want to see.

I sincerely hope TiVo weathers this legal storm, the products are already loaded with enough protection to keep the movie industry's worst fears from taking place, though I suspect if the show sharing features get into TiVo, the maximum number of shareable devices will most likely be something like 3 other boxes instead of 10.

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[Marc's Voice]