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Fast forward as theft


By Scott Bradner


This is yet another column about the copyright industry.  It might seem like I'm fixated on the topic and maybe thatŐs somewhat the case but it's because I fear that they want to turn the Internet into something that is legally limited to providing the services they think are OK.


There were two triggers for revisiting the topic this time.  First, in an interview with Cableworld, Jamie Kellner, the head of ad-supported television for Turner Broadcasting (the folk that bring you CNN), said that skipping ads on a recorded TV show was theft. Second, the Mercury News reported that a judge in Los Angeles ordered SonicBlue, the maker of ReplayTV, to develop software within the next 60 days to "record every click from every customer's remote control."  In particular the judge wants to have a record of which shows individual users copy, store and view; what commercials they skip and which programs they send to other users.


Kellner said in the interview "It's theft.  Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots.  Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis.  Any time you skip a commercial  ... you're actually stealing the programming."    He does have a point, but it's a point that is rendered invalid by the real world.  A world in which CNN replays the same, often mind numbingly stupid, ad twice an hour for months at a time.  Is it in anyone's benefit, particularly Dell's, if I am forced to watch that weird Dell dude recite the same dumb dialogue 100 times?  In my case it would guarantee that I would never buy a Dell product, to do otherwise would be supporting mental torture.  It is possible to create ads that people actually want to see, though that might be hard to tell while watching CNN.


There are already movie DVDs sold where the DVD player does not let you skip the 10-minute ad at the start of the movie.  If Kellner had his way you would not even be able to mute the sound commercials you hate.  I wonder if he carefully reads all the ads in the Sunday paper, just to be consistent.


The implication of the judge's order is that the Kellners of the world might be able to check to see that you are following their rules.  Since there is no technical reason for a device like ReplayTV to send any reports back to the manufacturer the judge is ordering a vendor to spy on its customers and to modify its products to make that possible.  Not a good precedent at all.    What's next -- real-time reports to Microsoft when your company uses a non-Microsoft product?


I believe in a balance between the rights of the copyright holders and the rest of the world.  These two incidents indicate to me that there is currently an increasing tilt away from the users.


disclaimer:  Harvard is made up of users and some tilters but the above is my own view.