SOC: Tempest in the Back of Your TV

I've spent all day on what I thought would be a short blog post. The MPAA wants a waiver from the FCC rule that prohibits disabling analog interfaces on the back of your TV. That sounds dangerous, but it turns out the problem is a lot more complicated than I wanted it to be!

The MPAA has asked the FCC for a waiver to allow studios to broadcast new movies before they are made available on DVD. To make such broadcasts more secure, the MPAA wants permission to block the signal from being output through the analog interface. While digital outputs can be hacked and DRM bypassed, the MPAA believes that the most likely and most dangerous form of piracy of these early releases would come from users with active analog ports–what is sometimes referred to as “the analog hole.”

If the waiver is granted, content providers would be able to disable analog ports when transmitting early-release movies to the set. The digital ports could then be manipulated to ensure that the programming was not copied in violation of the new service’s terms.

The MPAA’s request is being supported by content providers including cable TV, satellite, and phone companies, as well as some device manufacturers. The principal opposition is coming from the Consumer Electronics Association, the main trade group for device manufacturers, as well as a coalition of public interest groups including Public Knowledge and the EFF.

This is not an open-and-shut case, though both sides would like to characterize it as such. The objectors argue that consumers who only have analog outputs (25 million, according to CEA) should not have their TV’s “broken” by SOC, in essence forced to upgrade to newer TVs if they want to watch early releases of new movies.

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