EFF reveals plot to cripple European television

EFF has just published a long-awaited, brilliant paper on Europe's proposed digital TV DRM system. The proposal comes from the Digital Broadcasters' Forum (I was EFF's rep at DVB for years), and it's the most restrictive digital TV proposal, encompassing all the evils of Blu-Ray and DVD-HD, and adding new wrinkles.

For example, DVB's DRM distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate households — if you live in a legit household, you can share your videos among all your household's devices. If you live in an illegitimate household, you can't. What's a legit household? Well, DVB always talks about how much effort they've put into protecting households with summer homes, but when I raised the possibility of a household where mom and dad live in Manila, with a son doing construction contracts in Saudi Arabia and a daughter working as an au pair in Los Angeles, I was told that this was a "corner case."

EFF is the only consumer group admitted to the DRM negotiations — closed door, secretive meetings that you had to pay EU10,000 a year to attend — and then only because it came as the representative of some open source manufacturers. Speaking of which, the DVB spec requires that devices be built to resist end-user modification, which means that open source and free software are right out.

DVB makes TV standards for Europe and parts of Asia, Australia, Africa and Latinamerica; the people working on the DRM project also wanted to see it rolled out in the USA. This is coming soon to a home theater near you.

Take action, stand up, join EFF and refuse to be chained by your devices. Tell the manufacturers that they have the market power to buy and sell Hollywood out of pocket — stop sucking up to them and build the devices we want to buy!

Principally at the studios' behest, DVB has been working since 2003 on an elaborate television DRM scheme called Content Protection and Copy Management (CPCM). Its unparalleled restrictions include:

* Enforcing severe home recording and copying limitations. CPCM will allow content providers to apply copy restriction labels to broadcast streams. For example, a program could be marked as "Copy Never." In turn, your DVRs and others devices receiving the signal will have to obey and forbid copying even for home use. A content provider could opt to allow recording but still enforce a multitude of restrictions on copying to other devices.

* Imposing controls on where you watch a program. Even if you are given permission to move a program to your laptop or other portable devices, "geography controls" may kick in and stop playback once you leave home or a particular locale. These restrictions may be enforced using tamper-proof GPS receivers built in to your devices. CPCM can also be used to block sending video to yourself over your own home network or the Internet, among other things.

* Dictating how you get to share shows with your own family. CPCM can be used to examine, for instance, the frequency with which devices are connected to a personal network and determine whether your sharing is within an "Authorized Domain" Absurdly, DVB spent significant time arguing over what happens to a digital video in case of a divorce!

* Breaking compatibility with your devices. You may have already invested in new high definition displays and receivers that rely on component analog connections or unrestricted digital outputs, but CPCM will allow the studios to arbitrarily block these connections. In other words, individual copyright holders can turn your gadgets into oversized paperweights. CPCM- restricted media will also be able to carry blacklists and revoke compatibility with particular devices that don't enforce Hollywood's restrictions sufficiently.