Groups to FCC: no 'special favor’ allowing Hollywood to control consumer TV

Public Knowledge:

Thirteen public interest groups today said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should not respond to the “whims of industry” and grant the motion picture lobby the ability to control how consumers use their television sets and set-top boxes. As many as 20 million TV sets could be affected. Groups signing the letter include Public Knowledge, Reclaim the Media, Media Alliance and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

According to the letter, the Commission’s Media Bureau is poised to grant a waiver requested by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for what is called “selectable output control” that would shut down the types of devices consumers could plug into their TV sets. The MPAA has asked for a special waiver to existing FCC rules so that it can offer movies to consumers, while shutting down the output ports at the back of set-top devices through which equipment like TiVo or Sling Boxes can be connected.

While the consumer and public interest groups have told the FCC that there is substantial harm that could result, the MPAA has failed to provide the proof necessary for a waiver, the groups said in their letter. Over the past year, “the MPAA has failed to provide a reason as to why the limited interests of its six member movie studios should be allowed to outweigh the interests of those consumers that will be forced to replace over 20 million television sets and countless other devices in order to view content that their current equipment is capable of displaying,” the groups told the Commission.

“Despite a dearth of evidence justifying this petition, the Media Bureau appears poised to grant the waiver as a special favor to the MPAA, contrary to the public interest,” the groups said.

Movie studios say the extraordinary waiver is needed to cut down on piracy. But, the groups said, “The MPAA has not presented a shred of relevant data in the record to support its claim that the ability to turn off video outputs on common consumer electronics could be used to effectively combat piracy. Instead, MPAA member studio Paramount undercut its own argument by presenting data that illustrates that infringing copies of movies are already widely available on the Internet on the day of a film’s theatrical release – months before the proposed home VoD [video on demand] release date. Granting this waiver would do nothing to limit the availability of these infringing copies.”

A copy of the letter is here.

Public Knowledge today also sent out an Action Alert to its mailing list. A copy of the alert is here.

The alert tells consumers, “Who gets to decide which outputs you can use on your home entertainment gear—the movie studios or you? File a comment with the FCC and tell them to keep Hollywood’s technology mandates out of your living room.”

A video with PK Legal Director Harold Feld explaining the issue is here, while general background on the issue is here.

article originally published at Public Knowledge.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey