Remember the NBC series “Sanford and Son,” which enjoyed a highly successful run in the mid '70s? Actor and comedian Redd Foxx played the role of Fred G. Sanford, a cantankerous widower living with his grown son, Lamont, in the notorious Watts section of Los Angeles. The trademark routine of the series occurred when Fred feigned a heart attack by clasping his chest in mock pain. Whenever things didn't go his way, he would start staggering drunkenly telling Lamont or Aunt Ester, “This is the big one!”
Seems like the highly successful U.S. content industry, which still calls the Los Angeles area it's home, has taken its strategy for the continued global dominance of mass media straight out of the script of “Sanford and Son.” Each time emerging technologies threaten their dominance of the markets for the creation and distribution of entertainment for the masses, they run to Washington feigning the need for CPR.
In its “The 3-minute Guide to the Broadcast Flag,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) notes that the entertainment companies don't like tools that give you more control. Article author Cory Doctorow writes, “The movie studios boycotted TV because they thought it would clean out the movie theaters. Then they complained that the remote control would make it too easy to skip commercials. Then they freaked out over the VCR, saying it was the “Boston Strangler” of the American film industry.” The entertainment conglomerates are also not fond of audio- and video-capture cards and sued a personal video recorder company into bankruptcy. And the list goes on and on.
For a recent example, Sony BMG started selling music CDs with digital rights management (DRM) software developed by First4Internet XCP and SunnComm MediaMax. The problems with the Sony BMG CDs surfaced when security researchers discovered that XCP and MediaMax installed undisclosed and, in some cases, hidden files on users' Windows computers, potentially exposing music fans to malicious attacks by third parties. The infected CDs also communicated back to Sony BMG about customers' computer use without proper notification.
Named the Sony BMG Rootkit Fiasco, the DRM CDs gave the media conglomerates yet another black eye, as the EFF successfully sued Sony BMG, forcing the company to withdraw the technology from the market and to compensate affected consumers with DRM free versions of the CDs or legal download alternatives.
As this column is about to relate, this has not slowed down the efforts of virtually every industry that touches mass media content to portray the transition to networked digital media distribution as life threatening. Now, HDTV is the latest cause for trauma.
Once again the media conglomerates are warning the politicians that their constituents cannot be trusted — that we are little better than common thieves. While they feign a Sanford-like heart attack and beg politicians for CPR, the reality is that in this case, CPR would more accurately defined as the Content Protection Racket.