Way back in February 2007 I wrote a blog post called "Windows Vista: Beneath Aero’s transparency hides some future ‘surprises’" where I pondered some of the features of Vista designed to appease Hollywood’s desire to control how people use media on their computers.
More evidence of these features were revealed recently when users of Windows Media Centre in the US who intended to record an episode of Gladiators found that the recording was blocked because of a broadcast flag known as CGMS-A in the TV signal which WMC understood to indicate it should not be recorded. NBC, who aired the show, said it was mistakenly added and that it wouldn’t happen again. Microsoft have claimed they will work to make sure this doesn’t happen again. However, many people are skeptical about this, in an article on Ars Technica Eric Bangeman wrote:
There is technically no reason why Microsoft should support CGMS-A in Windows Vista and Windows XP MCE, and the screwup is evidence the software giant has decided to align itself with the interests of broadcasters and movie studios rather than those of its customers. Yes, this was a mistake by NBC, but the technology is there for such mistakes to be turned into policy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also have a few interesting things to say about why Microsoft have support for broadcast flags that were rejected by the courts:
To be perfectly clear: Microsoft is under no legal obligation to look for and respond in any particular way when it sees the broadcast flag being sent by NBC’s digital stations. Any DTV-receiving software technology or device – like MythTV – is free to take the same stream from HDHomeRun and ignore a broadcast flag transmitted with it. In other words Microsoft did not have to build its PC to look for and refuse to record a program which has its flag turned on.
Had consumers not stood up against the FCC’S mandatory flag rule three years ago, alternatives like MythTV would no longer be available. Back then, the FCC tried to force tech companies (and open source developers) to obey the entertainment industry’s remote TV control. A coalition of librarians, public interest organizations, and consumer groups successfully challenged the FCC’s jurisdiction to impose such a broad regulation in Federal court. After the rightsholders lost in court, they spent millions lobbying Congress to pass a law forcing receivers to obey their command. Your letters and calls stopped that bill.