HRRC Backs Cable/CE Position

The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) has thrown its support behind a proposal that could extend consumers' rights in the digital age.

Presented in late December to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by major cable multiple system operators (MSOs) and consumer electronics companies, the proposal asks the FCC to consider applying current rules that insure home recording rights for free over-the-air analog television programming to cable and satellite feeds of digital signals.

Of particular interest to technophiles and home theater fans is a section of the jointly-issued draft regulation that seeks to ban "Selectable Output Control" (SOC) and that would provide at least a partial ban on the "down-resolution" of high-definition television (HDTV) signals in home devices. SOC lets copyright holders or broadcasters remotely control the recording capabilities of consumer electronics devices on a program-by-program basis. "Down-resing" forces home devices to degrade the quality of an HDTV signal—for both viewing and recording—out of concern that the signal might be recorded.

The entertainment industry has pushed for such options as part of its copy-protection strategy, as well as the use of watermarking and "broadcast flags" to prevent widespread piracy. The HRRC—and now, apparently the cable and consumer electronics industries—fears that the use of such technologies could prevent consumers from receiving the high-resolution programming they believe they have paid to receive by buying HDTV displays. SOC and down-resing could also "deprive consumers of use of the only HDTV-capable input on most of the four million HD-capable displays that have been sold to date," the HRRC stated.

"We note that the encoding rules proposed today are generally similar to those in current law (Section 1201(k) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) that limit the use of anti-copy technologies in analog VCRs," the statement continued. "In the case of digital cable and satellite programming, HRRC has long complained about potential cable license provisions that would force consumer devices to respond to electronic triggers for selectable output control and down-resolution. Today HRRC welcomes their proposed elimination by the cable television industry, and calls on the motion picture and satellite television industries to join in this public policy recommendation to the FCC."

The HRRC was founded during the early days of videotape, and represents consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and professional servicers of consumer electronics products. The group has congressional allies in Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-CA), who have long backed consumer rights. The HRRC says it will work to persuade Congress and the FCC to protect digital recording for "private, non-commercial purposes."