L.A. Law: High Def in Hollywood

Two lawyers are sitting in a bar. One turns to the other and asks, "Want a sneak peak at the latest Hollywood blockbuster?" Sounds like the opening to a great joke. This one isn't a joking matter. A petition filed with the FCC by the MPAA (you know, the folks who put ratings on films) is asking the FCC to go back on a previous ruling to protect Hollywood's rights. Poor, poor, Hollywood. This is one of those good news/bad news stories. It's been a long week, let's do the good news first. Hollywood is talking with major cable and satellite systems about offering video-on-demand HD movies significantly earlier than the movie's DVD or Blu-ray release, timed much closer to the theatrical release. That's it for the good news.

The bad news is that the studios are asking the FCC to waive a regulation that prohibits cable and sat operators from using controls built into set-top boxes and satellite receivers to turn off the analog outputs to a TV. I know, it's been a long week and it sounds unrelated. Hollywood, as always, is worried about their property. Any threats to their movies are countered with attacks that make an angry grizzly momma look negligent. (Think I'm over-exaggerating?  Read this.)  Hollywood wants the analog hole plugged up to prevent easy piracy via the analog outputs once you've received their high-dollar early movie release. The FCC initiated the regulation preventing operators from using these controls to prevent cable and satellite companies from disadvantaging analog subscribers. Hollywood could force you to only use protected HDMI outputs to view their movies.

Earlier VOD releases could be great news. Going to the movies is getting to be quite expensive, and many folks don't have access to quality theaters. To quote the petition, "Protections are necessary to deter unauthorized copying or redistribution of the content." While it's relatively easy to copy the analog signal, there is no way that Hollywood can seriously think the digital signal is unhackable. Come on. What rock are they living under out there in La-La Land?-Leslie Shapiro