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Monday, August 23, 2004

IP MEMES: TiVo To Go Gets Go-Ahead — And More

(My August contribution to IP Memes follows.)

Good Gets Go-Ahead To Get Great, But May Have Other Gremlins

Over the objections of Hollywood and professional sports leagues, on August 4 the FCC gave the thumbs up to TiVo's plan to let users share recorded TV in a limited manner over the Internet. The Commission unanimously determined the copyright control technologies included in the TiVo To Go service met the FCC's "broadcast flag" requirements, thus permitting users to share and move shows across the Internet in a limited manner with no undue threat of wider distribution. In addition to giving users the ability to copy and move programming to other devices, TiVo To Go is expected to permit remote programming of TiVo devices from cell phones and PDAs.

As convenient and user-friendly as all this sounds, TiVo may not be out of the woods just yet. What the FCC giveth, Congress may taketh away, in the form of the proposed Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act. The Act is worded sufficiently broadly that, if passed, TiVo's new technology is among many innovations that could be rendered illegal for "intentionally inducing" copyright infringement.


Online Music Sharing That's Both Cool And Legal

I haven't yet seen any empirical data on this, I'm willing to wager we've entered an era where the vast majority of digital music on hard drives will have been put there legally, either thanks to legal downloading services or legally purchased and copied CDs. Must all these law abiding audiophiles exchange their scruples for subpenas simply because they'd like to share their collections online, or listen to selections others have mixed and picked? Not if they use Mercora P2P Radio. Mercora is a P2P network that lets users tune in and listen, radio style, to the music on one another's hard drives, without copying or distributing copyrighted works. Mercora's webcasts are licensed under the DMCA, and the company also takes care of applicable reporting and royalty requirements. Mercora tells users how to comply with non-interactive webcast rules (e.g., by not pre-announcing the time or order of specific programming), and turns them loose. The service also supports digital image sharing (both viewing and downloading), with video soon to come.


You're Licensed, You're Welcome

While services like Mercora might look after the legal details associated with webcasting music, increased use of Creative Commons licensing is helping create repositories of copyrighted works available for myriad purposes. One such effort is the Open Source Media Project, the brainchild of technologist Marc Canter and journalist JD Lasica. The project, which has the support of Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive, will provide a two-way platform for users to both contribute and access visual media that are subject to reduced (or nonexistent) use restrictions based on their particular flavor of Creative Commons license. It promises to be a great platform for creativity and learning.


Reverse Engineering Apple Is The New Black

DVDCCA nemesis Jon Lech Johansen (of DeCSS fame, whose blog is aptly named "So sue me") has reverse engineered Apple's Airport Express. Airport Express is a must-have new device with uses like wirelessly transmitting tunes to your stereo, and setting up quick WiFi networks. With DVD Jon's hack, the Airport Express could conceivably be host to music streams from any application, not just iTunes. Ernest Miller, who, in his "Hatch's Hit List," is keeping track of all the technologies he comes across that could run afoul of the proposed Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, points out that "Johansen would make an ideal defendant (from the plaintiff's point of view)."

A less ideal defendant (from the plaintiff's point of view) is RealNetworks, Inc., but that hasn't stopped Real from pursuing its own bout of Apple reverse-engineering, this time aimed at the iPod. As designed, the iPod plays standard MP3s and songs encrypted with Apple's FairPlay digital rights management, but does not support other encrypted file formats. Real's Harmony seeks to change this, in much the same way DVD Jon seeks to make the Airport Express compatible with non-iTunes applications. "Free your iPod," proclaims Real's new community site devoted to "compatibility issues," Freedom of Music Choice, and "Don't Break My iPod" is what Real urges users to tell Apple in a related online petition. Despite Real's efforts to win mindshare with its new site and petition, anti-Real sentiments left by users indicate that will be an uphill battle. For its part, Apple says it is "stunned" by Real's actions, investigating the legal ramifications, and likely to design around Harmony in forthcoming releases of the iPod software.


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