MPAA SOCs it to your set-top box

John C. Tanner
12 May 2010

Over in the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved a request by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to broadcast first-run movies on cable/satellite TV even as they’re still playing in theatres.

The MPAA says it wants to do this because box office is shrinking and it needs to be able to attract consumers who are staying home to watch movies either via DVDs, video-on-demand or – worse – the internet.

The MPAA needed the FCC’s permission to do this because the MPAA will only allow first-run movies on TV if they’re allowed to remotely activate the “Selective Output Control” (SOC) technology in set-top boxes that would allow them to deactivate parts of your home theater system – such as your DVR or Slingbox, for example – depending on what program you’re watching, the DRM rights assigned to it and whether said device has an analog or otherwise insecure output.

SOC itself isn’t new – it’s been around for close to a decade. The MPAA petitioned the FCC to allow them to use SOC in 2003. The FCC said no. The MPAA re-petitioned the FCC in 2008, and this time the FCC said “yes”, citing “public interest benefits – making movies widely available for home viewing far earlier than ever before – without imposing harm on any consumers”.

Evidently the FCC doesn’t consider the ability of movie studios to remotely disable your DVR to be harmful. BoingBoing blogger Cory Doctorow certainly does, and makes a spirited argument against SOC.

To be fair, it’s worth mentioning that the FCC ruling only grants a partial waiver for SOC restrictions – studios can only implement it for 90 days, or until the DVD release date. While Doctorow tends to lay on the worst-case hyperbole with things like this, he’s right on a couple points.

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