HBO’s Harrasment of PVR Owners

Unhappy Media Center

Ed Bott’s Media Central � Ouch! Bitten by DRM Well last week I wrote about Dave Zatz’s report that HBO wanted to have their content coded as “Copy Never” for PVR users. In response to Dave’s post I tried to clarify to people that HBO’s DRM request to the FCC was not about DVR usage but about VOD usage, what I felt was an important distinction.

Well no sooner than this morning we now have a screen shot up at Ed Bott’s Media Central about a “Restricted Content” error that he is receiving on his Media Center PC for an HBO show that he recorded. The message reads: Restricted Content, Restrictions set by the broadcaster and/or originator of the content prohibit playback of the program on this computer.

What’s worse is that according to Ed, he is receiving this message on the computer that actually recorded the programming, not a second computer that he copied the file too.

Under the best case scenario, this message is yet another example of how DRM inadvertently gets in the way of legitimate and fair use. If content providers want to use DRM it is super important that they make it as seamless for the fair use consumer as possible.

Under the worse case scenario, of course, HBO is actually no longer letting you record their content on your PVR for personal use. While I doubt this is the case, the day that HBO does this I will call them up and cancel my account — no matter how badly I want to watch the upcoming season of the Sopranos.

Either way this looks bad for HBO who is quickly building a reputation as one of the most consumer unfriendly broadcasters out there.

Update: Ed Bott is still trying to troubleshoot why HBO will not allow him to play back recorded content on his Media Center PC. This is a big problem. If Ed Bott, who is one of the top Windows Pros out there, is having trouble figuring this out, just imagine how stuck your average Joe out there is going to be when he runs across the same thing. Ed’s headline today, HBO stops working with Media Center, is kind. If these kinds of bugs continue to threaten fair use get ready for bigger headlines that say things like, Yes, in Fact, Microsoft’s DRM Does Truly Suck.

It may not be fair to generalize based on Ed’s experience here but he is a pro and it is troubling to see this kind of interference for a legitmate fair use of content that he has purchased. He is paying for HBO afterall and he also is paying for his Media Center PC.

I posted a comment on Ed’s blog about how I recently switched my email reader from Microsoft’s Outlook to Mozilla Thunderbird. I actually like Outlook more but even with the actual original Outlook disk that I had purchased myself I could not get Microsoft’s buggy authentication to work. After several hours of screwing around with it I just gave up and installed Thunderbird (which I’d highly recommend by the way). This was not my first problem with Microsoft authentication and if Microsoft hopes for consumers to take a middle ground position with regards to DRM then it will need to work a lot better than it is working for Ed right now.

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TiVo Series3 and JVC receivers throw DRM fit

Copy never: DRM ‘glitch’ keeps TiVo Series3, JVC A/V receivers from playing nice – Alpha Blog – alpha.cnet.com So here’s one more reason not to buy a TiVo Series 3. CNET’s John P. Falcone has an article out about a glitch that prevents you from watching HBO with your TiVo Series 3 when using a JVC receiver.

“But when we moved onto another program–Revenge of the Sith, recorded off of HBO-HD–the screen suddenly went gray, with a TiVo warning emblazoned across the bottom: “Viewing is not permitted using the TiVo Digital Media Recorder. Try another TV input.” Several other programs–Empire of the Sun (HDNet Movies), Simone (HBO-HD), and episodes of Battlestar Galactica (Universal HD) all yielded the same result.”

So who is to blame for this? Well of course HBO in part for the way that they code their shows which allow for snafus like this to happen. TiVo of course would like for us to absolve them of all responsibility associated with this as they are merely enforcing the rules established by HBO.

But the point is that TiVo is the one that has agreed to provide the support for the DRM that creates snafus like this and so I blame them most of all. While it may be unrealistic and certainly not pragmatic for TiVo to pursue an adversarial reltionship with content providers (especially when they are trying to get cozier with them from an advertising perspective), I still think that they should take a stronger pro consumer stance.

TiVo of course is not the only one playing ball with the content owners. Microsoft also is and snafus have happened here in the past too.

What do I think TiVo and Microsoft should do? I think that they should use their collective clout to say no to the content providers about DRM. It’s unacceptable that these snafus take place which only hinder both consumer consumption and adoption of this technology.

TiVo. Ad zapping = good. Fast fowarding commercials = good. Time shifting = good. TiVo2Go (which CNET notes is killed in the Series 3) = good.

DRM = bad. Very bad.

Thanks for the heads up Dave and you can digg CNET’s article on this snafu here.