FCC OKs Program Sharing

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Over the objections of the National Football League and the Motion Picture Association of America, the FCC last week approved TiVo Inc.’s request to allow consumers to share “saved” TV programming with up to 10 friends of family for private use.

TiVo is working on a “Digital Output Protection Technology” that would allow consumers, for instance, to transmit stored TV programming to friends, vacation homes and other locations for personal use.

But the NFL and MPAA, having watched rampant Internet music piracy, opposed the TiVo plan, fearing that opening the file-sharing door just a crack would lead to widespread abuse. The two groups said the TiVo system didn’t meet the “broadcast flag” requirements adopted last November.

The NFL said a consumer could send a game broadcast in real time to a friend in a blacked-out city, since broadband connections are now widespread. But the Federal Communications Commission didn’t buy that argument.

The commission also approved 12 other broadcast-flag technologies. That list includes four “MagicGate” technologies from Sony Corp., SmartRight from Thomson, the Vidi Recordable DVD Protection Systems from Phillips Electronics and Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Media Digital Rights Management system.

The broadcast-flag rules, which take effect July 1, 2005, will make it illegal to distribute or sell equipment that can receive certain DTV streams unless it has government approved copy protection. But the FCC carved out an exception for TiVo last week. The vote was unanimous, but commissioner Kevin Martin expressed concerns whether TiVo’s technology provided “sufficient restraints.”

“All of the other technologies requesting approval from us have adopted proximity controls or similar mechanisms to limit content redistribution outside the home at this time,” he said.

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