Content owners seek to block TiVo plans

Hollywood studios and the National Football League are seeking to block the maker of the TiVo television recorder from expanding its service so that users could watch copies of shows and movies on devices outside their homes.

In FCC filings, the organizations contend the new technology could compromise the copyrights of shows that broadcasters send over the airwaves in digital form. They fear that computer enthusiasts would capture those programs and begin trading them online in the same way that millions of music files are shared daily. TiVo insists its system will not allow such mass Internet distribution.

The Washington Post reported that the battle is one of several being waged in federal agencies and on Capitol Hill this summer, as content companies such as movie and music companies seek to keep control of copyrighted works that increasingly can be digitally stored, copied, manipulated and distributed by users.

In turn, several public advocacy groups and technology companies warn that content companies are trying to revoke long-standing consumer rights to “fair use” of artistic works.

To date, TiVo users generally have been unable to send copied programs to another device, although some digital recorders include “burners” that allow programs to be copied to a DVD and played elsewhere.

TiVo wants to make copies more portable, in stages. Sometime this fall, the company plans to roll out a system that will allow programs to be transferred from the TiVo box to a computer via a small device attached to the PC.

The program could then be sent to other devices within the home and viewed on them. Such devices, including laptops or desktop computers, would be registered with the company and would share encoding and decoding technology that prevents viewing by non-registered devices.

Next year, TiVo plans to expand the system to allow programs to be transferred to registered devices outside the home, such as at an office, vacation cabin or even a friend’s house across the country. A maximum of 10 devices could be registered by the subscriber.

“TiVo has an interest in keeping everything secure,” said its Washington attorney, James M. Burger. “We are trying to bring innovation to consumers.”

But the system alarms the content industry, which promised to roll out more digital programming over free television networks only after insisting that the FCC adopt rules requiring makers of recording devices to certify that they have technologies to prevent mass Internet distribution.

Mike Godwin, policy counsel for Public Knowledge, an advocacy group for consumer digital rights, said the fight highlights the danger of requiring technologies to be approved by government agencies.

“We’ve always thought that once the FCC got into the role of approving content protection technologies that the content companies would leverage this to use the agency to throttle various technologies,” he said.

An FCC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post a decision on approved technologies is scheduled to be made in the next couple of weeks.

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