Behind the VEIL

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and your best buds, Congress, are hard at work again trying to prevent you from enjoying all that content you thought you purchased. Excuse me, did I say purchased? I misspoke; I meant licensed. After all, we no longer own entertainment; we merely rent it.

Just before the politicians fled Washington for their six-week winter vacations, Congressmen James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Jon Conyers (D-MI) introduced HR 4569, which they claim will plug the last crack in Hollywood's wall against evil piracy: the dreaded analog hole. The congressmen's action must have been the best stocking stuffer Hollywood's had in years — maybe even better than the Recording Industry Association of America's success in suing actual CD customers.

The entertainment community — broadcast networks included — sounds like a pack of angry cats. They howl for protection from those one-eyed, black-jacketed, peg-legged pirates (you and me) stealing them blind.

Hollywood claims that some — no, make that most — of us are thieving their high-value content (you know, programs like “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,” “Bewitched” and other really hot shows, maybe even “Gilligan's Island,” and passing these videos on to our buddy lists). Were this true, the Los Angeles power brokers, who are already rich, would be — uh, well — less rich.

The problem (from Hollywood's perspective) is that their high-priced digital content, which is easily copy-protected, can be converted into an analog version that is not copy-protected. The process is often as easy as passing the program through a D/A converter, such as a set-top box or computer with a YC/composite output.

Now a new technology rides to Hollywood's rescue. It's called VEIL, or Video Encoded Invisible Light. VEIL was introduced by Warner Bros. and Mattel, the company with the Batman toys that respond to signals received from TV screens. I'd tell you more about how VEIL works, but the company refuses to provide any information. When one technology writer asked for some specifications, he was told that he'd have to pay $10,000 and sign a licensing agreement first.

What is obvious is that HR 4569 must have been written by the MPAA itself. The law could prevent any analog signal without the needed permissions from being recorded or transported between newer consumer equipment. You could be prevented from recording a TV show on your VCR, DVR, PVR, computer or iPod. Or, even if the TV show has a copy-once permission, say for TiVo use, the MPAA-generated legislation will require your show to be automatically erased 90 minutes after it's recorded! So much for time shifting.

The bill appears to have no exemption for professional equipment. How broadcast equipment makers would go about implementing this, I'm not sure.

Surely, there must be some upside for the consumer, right? After all, we elected these politicians, right? Uh, no. To quote one blogger, “This bill means we will have to pay through the nose again and again.”

So, if you'll excuse me, I have to go erase anything still on my TiVo. I don't want to get caught in Hollywood's latest war against its paying customers.

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