Studios Want FCC Ruling On Waiver for HD Movies

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Movie studios are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to make a decision on granting a waiver that would allow them to deliver high-definition movies to cable subscribers in advance of their DVD release in a way that blocks consumers' ability to copy them.

Such a move concerns independent producers and fair-use activists.

In June 2008, the Motion Picture Association of America asked the agency to waive its prohibition on selectable output controls to allow them to selectively block the copying of HD movies via cable set-tops.

Representatives of the MPAA met with FCC staffers last week to urge them to grant the waiver, saying it would “enable millions of Americans to obtain access in their homes to high-value content that MPAA member studios intend to distribute.”

One of the trade group's initial arguments was that the waiver could help speed the digital-TV transition by increasing the demand for high-definition TV, but the FCC has already missed that boat.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which supported the FCC ban on selectable output controls, also supports the waiver. The trade group has pointed out that the FCC itself predicted that banning the select control of digital-content output might need to be waived for new services that would benefit the public.

Public-interest law firm Public Knowledge, a fair-use fan, and other advocacy groups early on asked the FCC to deny the waiver, saying it would “frustrate consumer expectations regarding their home-theater equipment and will give movie studios unprecedented and undesirable control over the design and use of home electronics equipment.”

Also opposed is the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which said not long after the waiver request was made that allowing the major studios to “remotely shut off a particular output on a program-by-program basis” would harm program diversity by diminishing access to independent films. Theater owners are also concerned that the studios are shortening their distribution windows and migrating their movies to other distribution platforms — like cable and satellite — that they can more easily control.