Jon Ippolito on Wed, 9 Mar 2005 13:44:53 +0100 (CET)

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RE: <nettime> Internet2: Orchestrating the End of the Internet?

Thanks for this thoughtful response, Phil. It's hard for me to disagree 
with someone who is so plugged into Internet2--and says such nice things 
about me. But I'll do my best, with the help of Google and the EFF's 
Seth Schoen.

> (1) the broadcast flag only applies to over-the-air broadcasts (not
>cable, satellite, or internet streaming

That's basically true--although Seth tells me the jury is still out on 
whether the flag applies to cable. In any case, Hollywood didn't need to 
lobby for a broadcast flag on cable or satellite broadcasts because 
those providers already can (and generally do) slap on even stricter 
DRM. The FCC approved this stricter form of exclusion--with minor 
limitations--in their recent "Plug and Play" proceeding.

> (2) [the broadcast flag] will not prevent
>copying for fair use.  For example, you will still be able to record
>over-the-air broadcast TV shows at home for later use.

Yes, if you use software or hardware that meets Hollywood's 
specification. While in theory such a device might let consumers do 
everything they're legally allowed to do, in reality the MPAA has no 
incentive to encourage devices that let consumers do something Hollywood 
won't profit by. Jack Valenti isn't really interested in letting you 
freely record digital TV with your current DVD burner, email a clip from 
a President's press conference to your mom, or create a high-definition 
video installation based on an archive of short TV clips.

To be sure, Jack doesn't have the direct authority to approve or 
disallow new PC tuner cards and DVD players. But before the broadcast 
flag, Hollywood had no recognized legal interest in appealing an FCC 
decision. Now that there's an FCC ruling designed specifically to 
protect their own interests, the movie studios are hiring expensive 
lawyers to do just that.

In the short term, some consumers may not notice the immediate effects 
of the flag. (Though I'm guessing Johnny Consumer will be ticked off 
when he learns that the $500 video player he bought in 2005 won't play a 
recording Aunt Betty made with a DTV receiver she bought in 2006.) More 
important for the long run, however, will be the flag's effect on 
innovation in video software and hardware. To build a legal device to 
interoperate with the broadcast flag will require it to be 
"untamperable." That rules out any technological innovation that 
requires tinkering or experimenting with an existing apparatus. In 
particular, it rules out open source software such as GNU Radio, because 
open source projects *require* others to be able to tinker with them. Do 
we really need another market where open source developers are told they 
can't compete because it would it would wreck the business plans of 
entrenched commercial interests?

While analog recording devices are not constrained by the broadcast 
flag, the MPAA has been trying other schemes to "plug the analog hole." 
A particularly ludicrous proposal, documented in the MPAA's "Content 
Protection Status Report" filed in the US Senate in 2002 and echoed by 
two TV execs at last week's DVB World, calls for embedding anti-copy 
chips into every analog-to-digital converter manufactured. As you 
probably know better than I, those wee little converters are 
everywhere--in digital scanners and camcorders, but also in 
thermometers, seismographs, computer mice, mobile phones, and 
light-meters. That Hollywood would presume to constrain technological 
development in everything from health care to scientific research 
testifies to its fanatic obsession with controlling technologies that 
are incompatible with its business model.

>The broadcast flag system *will* prevent large scale redistribution,
>i.e. massive piracy.

But will it? Many observers have noted that the broadcast flag's DRM has 
all the toughness of a wet paper bag. It's just unencrypted bits in a 
stream, and the spec is publicly and lawfully accessible.  The MPAA even 
sidestepped the question of effectiveness in their official FAQ. The 
ease with which it can be subverted makes me worry that its introduction 
will spur illegal reuses of digital TV while locking out legal ones.

By the way, you don't need to be a Bram Cohen to get around this DRM. 
Sure, you won't find a flag-free player manufactured after this July. 
But if you're keen on committing massive copyright infringement, just 
plunk down $150 for a tuner card before the deadline. Then you can spew 
pirated Alias episodes afterward to your heart's content.

>The ability to quickly create improvised collaborative groups was
>recognized as being among the highest application priorities in the
>earliest pre-planning of Internet2.  Application level efforts such
>as the Internet2 Commons, VRVS, and indeed the very Access Grid
>technology that MARCEL depends on, are some of the fruit of this
>early vision.

I'm glad to hear you think there's plenty of room on Internet2 for 
pickup collaborations outside of the broadcast model. Knowing you, 
you've probably participated in some interesting events on Internet2. So 
forgive me if the consortium's public face--which I've seen in Ann 
Doyle's presentations and Internet2 Web sites--doesn't reinforce the 
vision of open and improvisatory collaboration described above. Some of 
the networked performances I've seen associated with Internet2 sound 
innovative, but they take for granted a clear distinction between 
performers and audience. Likewise, I want to be part of the Internet2 
Commons--but not if I have to shell out a couple grand to join it. And 
an Open Student Network is a great idea, but not if the end result is a 
television channel for Connie Chungs-in-training.

But as you suggest, much of the problem may lie with the choreographers 
rather than with the engineers. Perhaps if MARCEL and Internet2 folks 
brainstormed together, they might come up with less hierarchic models of 
high-bandwidth culture.

>Router level digital rights
>management is not being considered by any of the internet standards
>bodies.  It's not even over the horizon.
That's good to hear, and you're in a much better position than I to know 
what Internet2 chieftains are contemplating. I suppose my concern is 
less with what Internet2 is now than with what it could easily become if 
the MPAA starts getting its claws into it.

You see, I don't know how to square your reassurances with the comments 
by MPAA and Internet2 VPs in the story I posted earlier. When 
Chris Russell talks about working with Internet2 to "manage illegitimate 
content," how is he going to do that without sniffers inside the network 
that tell him what's being traded or who fed it into Internet2?

Today, you and I can plug off-the-shelf PowerBooks into Ethernet cables 
at our university offices and communicate via Internet2 without 
Hollywood's blessing. I was optimistic that this privilege might someday 
belong to a much wider cross-section of people. But now the pessimist in 
me is thinking that even spoiled academics like us may be denied that 
freedom if the MPAA gets its way. As the folks at Public Knowledge 
commented in regard to the FCC's "Plug and Play" proceeding:

"One of the key issues in this proceeding is the extent to which content 
companies and content-delivery services can leverage the Commission's 
goals of promoting digital television, cable compatibility, and 
competition in the navigation-device market into sweeping regulations 
whose principal effect is not to serve these goals, or even to prevent 
piracy of digital television. Instead, the real purpose of these 
proposals is to restore to content companies, to the extent possible, 
the degree of control over video they exercised prior to the invention 
of the videocassette recorder."

I hope that folks like you with some influence in the consortium will 
take this threat seriously enough to be mindful of it. Thanks for 
helping to air this debate in public.

>And I personally look forward to working further with both!

I'd love to start a working group on Internet2/Access Grid devoted to 
questions of access and control. As long as admission is free :)


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