September 25, 2020

Broadcast Flag Blues

The FCC recently accepted reply comments on its broadcast flag proposal. I submitted a written comment, pointing out that some technical claims made by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) in their comments were spectacularly wrong.

[Background: The FCC, which regulates television broadcasting, asked for public comments on whether to issue “broadcast flag” regulations. It’s not clear exactly what form such regulations would take; they might be either broad or narrow. If issued, such regulations would almost certainly make it illegal to make or sell certain kinds of digital video technology.]

The MPAA told the FCC that with today’s technology, ordinary home users could capture digitally broadcast television programming and redistribute it easily on the Net via email or other means. They claim this is much easier than old-fashioned videotape infringement. Their claim is ridiculously wrong, as even the most basic technical analysis illustrates.

A digitally broadcast movie of the week takes up about 26 Gigabytes (26 billion bytes) of storage. What happens when you email a 26 Gigabyte file to a friend? Try it now and see what happens. Really. Go ahead and do it.

What’s that? You don’t have 26 Gigabytes of free space on your hard drive? Actually, you need about 80 Gigabytes of free space, or your email program will run out of space when it tries to put together the outgoing email message. No problem, a new 80 Gigabyte drive only costs $125. And don’t forget to order two drives – your friend will need one too so he can receive your email.

Oh, and when you send the message, remember that your email service probably limits message sizes to 10 Megabytes or so. No problem, you can stay under the limit by breaking up the file into 3500 pieces, and sending them as 3500 separate email messages. (Your friend won’t mind reassembling the pieces, I’m sure.)

By the way, you need to be careful not to overflow your friend’s email inbox, which can probably hold only a handful of these messages at a time. Just send the first five messages; when your friend has removed them from his inbox, he can send you an email telling you to send the next five. Repeat this 700 times, and you’re done. The whole process only takes four days if both of you work at it nonstop, day and night.

Of course, if you want to send the file to more people, it will take four extra days for each additional person.

The MPAA’s FCC filing calls this kind of piracy “instantaneous, effortless, and costless” and says that it has “no delay