Pact Reached to Stop Pirating Of Digital TV Over the Internet

Seth David Schoen schoen at
Mon May 13 05:08:35 EDT 2002

R. A. Hettinga writes:

> April 26, 2002
> Pact Is Reached to Stop Pirating
> Of Digital TV Over the Internet
> Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
> WASHINGTON -- Representatives from the entertainment and
> consumer-electronics industries told lawmakers that they have agreed on a
> system to keep digital television broadcasts from being pirated over the
> Internet.
> The agreement resolves a dispute that has contributed to the slow rollout
> of digital television.
> Top executives from content companies, including AOL Time Warner Inc., and
> TV makers such as Panasonic/Matsushita Electric Corp. of America told a
> House Energy and Commerce Committee panel that they had agreed on technical
> standards for a new "watermark." The watermark would be embedded in all
> digital TV broadcasts, and TVs, computers and other devices would be
> designed to play only materials with the watermark.

It's not a watermark.  It's a single bit.  All the technical people
involved in the process know that it isn't a watermark.  Perhaps these
reporters are just using "watermark" because they're used to
applications of watermarking along these lines, or perhaps someone
used watermarking as a metaphor.  But there's no watermark here, just
a "redistribution control" bit.

This proposal is a government mandate to ban digital TV receivers
unless they are "robust" (non-user-serviceable) and provide only
"Approved Outputs" and "Approved Recording Methods" for broadcasts in
which that bit is present.

> The executives said they planned to release the technical details of the
> agreement on May 17, at which time they would ask Congress to pass
> legislation ratifying the standards.

That's still true.  We are working with many organizations which
oppose this legislation to make it clear that there is no broad
"consensus" here.  (The agreement on which this article is reporting
is an agreement between the MPAA, two DRM consortia, and several
computer manufacturers.  That's hardly all the "affected industries"
-- never mind consulting consumers!)

You don't have to wait until May 17 to read the technical details,
though.  The very latest draft of the rules proposed by this group:

It doesn't make sense unless you also have an enforcement mechanism
which makes it illegal to sell a device which doesn't comply with
this standard:

(Software is included too.)

Again, the idea here is that digital terrestrial broadcast TV, which
uses an open standard called ATSC, is insufficiently "secure" for
Hollywood studios.  Therefore, they have proposed that legislation
require DRM for the digital outputs of TV receivers, and they have
proposed that all existing products which record these broadcasts in
open formats, or merely output them in open formats, be banned.

So, under these rules, you can't have an ATSC tuner card for your PC
unless the card and all its software are "robust" against your
accessing the TV signal itself.

This has a great deal in common with SCMS, the copy-control system
mandated under the Audio Home Recording Act, but this mandate draws on
lessons learned since then and includes computer products and

The most significant thing about this legislative proposal is that
it's the first of three compromises intended to replace the CBDTPA,
according to no less an authority than Jack Valenti:

     But we want to narrow the focus of the bill as the legislative
     process moves forward. What needs to happen is we all sit down
     together in good-faith negotiations and come to some conclusions on
     how we can construct a broadcast flag (for keeping digital TV
     content off the Internet), on how we plug the analog hole (allowing
     people to record digital content off older televisions and other
     devices), and how we deal with the persistent and devilish problem
     of peer-to-peer.

If your organization is interested in helping fight this proposal,
please contact us, and quickly.

Seth Schoen
Staff Technologist                                schoen at
Electronic Frontier Foundation          
454 Shotwell Street, San Francisco, CA  94110     1 415 436 9333 x107

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