Is that DVR a tool for committing copyright felonies?

NYT > Technology has a troubling article “By LORNE MANLY and JOHN MARKOFF” titled Steal This Show. “Homemade cable boxes. Episodes swiped off the Web. TV is becoming a do-it-yourself affair, and the industry is terrified.”

I was really disturbed by the tone that recording is the same as stealing. Time-shifting is a right. I don’t want to plan my life around a TV schedule. If I’m busy at 10 PM on Thursday (okay, more likely asleep), I want to record it and watch it at my convenience.

Broadcasters are losing out if people don’t record the commercials along with the show. Okay, I’ll concede that. So, keep the commercials in. Laura and I taped 12 hours of “Crossing Jordan” when A&E did a a marathon over the Thanksgiving weekend. It was kind of quaint watching (and yes, fast-forwarding through) the Christmas specials advertisments in January.

Laura pointed out that all the sharing hurts broadcasters because they don’t show up in the Neilson ratings. I hadn’t considered that, and that’s a really good point. If I understand correctly, it’s the ratings that let them price their advertising. Well, the NYT article might accidentally point the way there, too: The top of the article lists the top videos downloaded last week: this is not “lost” broadcasting, it’s just not counted.

Here’s a solution: the networks themselves need to host the video downloads, using something like BitTorrent that lets every downloader contribute to the uploading bandwidth. The network can offer some sort of an enticing premium like a higher-quality feed, with the commercials left in, and count the number of eyeballs that are watching using mechanisms like the BitTorrent tracking features. They get a bigger audience, viewers get to watch at their leisure. Is that a win – win?

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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.