DRM Infesting TiVo?

CNet executive editor, Molly Wood has written and interesting blog post about a user’s experience with DRM on his TiVo.

I got an email today from a pretty furious Comcast user, who writes:

‘This morning, my kids and I decided to watch a TiVo HD recording we made last night of The Making of John Adams. This is the new upcoming mini-series by Tom Hanks and others about the lives and accomplishments of John Adams. When we started watching it, I first found that the TiVo had flagged it for mandatory auto-deletion within a few hours of being deleted, due to ‘copyright policies.’ Hmm – never saw that one before.

After about 5 minutes watching, my oldest son came into the room, and we decided to start it over so he could enjoy it. What I found was something I’ve never seen before and has me pretty frosted. When I backed up to the beginning and attempted to watch it again, TiVo would not allow me to – again stating that it had violated copyright policies. After countless attempts at forward and reverse moves, we found that we could now not watch any portion of the show! I rebooted the TiVo, and found the same thing. No can do – the TiVo/HBO/Comcast programming had locked it from being viewed again! Then as promised at 11:29am EST, it deleted from my hard drive and there was nothing I could do about it.

Have you seen or heard of this one before? I never have and I’m pretty pissed off about it! If this is their clever new version of DRM, I’ll cancel my HBO subscription, never watch another Tom Hanks product, and move on. If this is what I think it is, I believe John Adams would be pretty upset about it. Maybe we should all throw our cable boxes into the Boston Harbor!’

This does, indeed, have me pretty concerned. We know that TiVo has full lockdown capabilities, provided by Macrovision, but the last time it reared its ugly head (users reported a red flag that prevented saving content past a certain date), TiVo assured us all that it was a mistake. And when they rolled out the Macrovision software in 2004, TiVo assured us they were only on board with new DRM rules “as long as the restrictions were limited to pay-per-view and video-on-demand,” and told Wired they “probably” wouldn’t go along with more restrictive content rules that limited consumer choice.

So, is this user’s encounter another mistake of overzealous software and accidental flagging? It pains me to say this, but I doubt it. HBO is not a fan of fair use, and has already put limits on making any copies of its programming (it allows one copy of regular programming and no copies of on-demand content). There have been reports in the past of HBO content failing to record even once on Media Center PCs, and they have petitioned the FCC to allow their video-on-demand content to be labeled as record-never, so that any of that subscription VOD stuff could never, ever be recorded to a DVR. And just last year, HBO CTO Bob Zitter said the only real problem with DRM is the name, which consumers hate. Rename DRM “Digital Consumer Enablement,” he said, and you can better describe all the ways in which HBO will be locking down future content.

In sum, while HBO and Macrovision have, so far, focused their fire on premium or VOD content, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see HBO decide that a particularly high-profile miniseries was a great candidate for copy protection restrictions, and to see Macrovision (with TiVo as the probably unhappy conduit) cheerfully enable restrictions that are inane, consumer-unfriendly, and infuriating.

Do we really need to rinse-and-repeat the rant about DRM, and how it punishes the people who would be your most loyal consumers, assumes we’re all pirates, frequently fails at even “authorized” tasks, alienates users, and is just generally an asinine and outmoded approach to content delivery that will only result in less usage of all products involved, no change in or even an increase in piracy stats, and the dreaded Mockery of the Blogosphere? Apparently we do.

Can anyone else confirm reports of this HBO/TiVo trouble with the John Adams miniseries? I sincerely hope it’s a mistake, but this one really does have all the distinguishing characteristics of a duck.

via The Culture of Ownership

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