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The FCC's Plan To Unlock Your Set-Top Box Is About Competition, Not Copyright

EFF's Deeplinks -

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to open up the closed world of TV set-top boxes, with the goal of finally killing that dust-gathering, power-sucking box altogether. They’ve proposed a new rule known as “Unlock the Box” that allows devices and apps from any manufacturer to connect with your home cable or satellite TV feeds. We think the FCC’s effort has the potential to unlock new competition, delivering cost savings and innovation.

Imagine being able to search for shows and movies available on your cable or satellite TV service, online services like Netflix and Amazon, and even over-the-air broadcasts, all with the same search-box. Imagine being able to change and customize your cable's janky interface as much as you do with PCs, smartphones, and browsers, and to add new features from any source. Oh, and imagine not having to pay $231 a year to rent a set-top box that's really just a three-generations-stale PC in an ugly case. The FCC’s “Unlock the Box” proposal might achieve all this, if we nudge the agency to do it right.

Naturally, pay-TV companies and their allies in the entertainment industry are fighting hard to stop the new monopoly-breaking rules. They’re raising many of the same arguments they tried to raise against net neutrality. One of their claims is that the new rules would somehow violate copyright law, or lead to violations.

This is the same thing these companies say about all new technology that they didn't invent, but the reality is that while the FCC's proposal could (and should) let you take back some of your rights under copyright, that doesn't mean you'll be violating copyright when you get those freedoms back.

The Unlock the Box proposal spells out what pay-TV customers can do with content they’ve already paid for. Anyone who copies or distributes TV content in a way that violates copyright law—whether individuals or technology companies—risks draconian penalties that often lead to bankruptcy.  Copyright rules are set by Congress, and nothing the FCC does can give any technology providers a license to violate them.

So why are pay-TV's titans crying piracy? What does copyright have to do with breaking the set-top box monopoly? When these companies talk about copyright, what they mean is control over your experience and the design of your technology. That’s why recent letters to the FCC from major TV producers (Disney, Time Warner, Fox, Comcast-NBC, etc.) and from the cable lobby group NCTA (Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Comcast-NBC again, etc.) don’t mention copyright infringement. Instead, they demand control over “the meticulous details of how a viewer sees programming content” and the ability to “rearrange” channels in the user interface. The thought that you might choose to “drop apps and interactive elements” from your screen sends them to their fainting couches. They describe giving pay-TV customers more choices in search, discovery, and user interface as “misappropriating content” and “commercial monetization.” They insist that “creators need to maintain control over product placement and commercial content” in the user interface of every device and app that accesses pay-TV programming.

Look, it's true that giant media companies might make more money when they get to "meticulously" specify every single detail of how you get to watch their stuff. When we were fighting these companies over the rules for European digital TV, one rep from the US entertainment industry demanded the right to control how long you could pause your TV to go to the bathroom, and said that rightsholders might want to "monetize" (ugh) your biological needs.

Putting a price tag on your bodily functions might be a way to make a lot of money, but it has nothing to do with copyright. Copyright is only an exclusive right to copy creative work (and to distribute, publicly perform, and adapt it). Copyright has important limitations, including fair use. Copyright doesn’t give rightsholders the ability to stop others from “monetizing” (double ugh) or even “exploiting” creative work unless one of the specific rights laid out in the law is violated. TV and home stereo manufacturers, used DVD sellers, and popcorn growers all “monetize” and profit from the creative works of others without asking permission or paying royalties. Last year, a federal court ruled that copyright doesn’t stop Dish Networks from offering a DVR that can skip commercials automatically. And no one has to pay extra for a mute button that works during commercial breaks (yet).

This isn't a bug in copyright, it's a feature. After all, it was independent innovators, working outside of copyright’s reach and without asking permission, who gave us the videocassette recorder, the mp3 player, the digital video recorder, and the cloud-based DVR, to name just a few. It was independent companies who gave us cable television, capturing broadcast signals and retransmitting to their customers without permission!

The set-top box is a frozen artifact of a bygone age whose features have been caught in a time-warp of innovation-through-permission. For the past 20 years, everyone who's had a cool idea for making the pay-TV experience better was sent packing. If the FCC's order comes through, they'll deliver.

This isn’t about control over copying, but control over the entire experience of TV watching, from the studio to your eyeballs, and over search and discovery as well as viewing. Open competition could bring many more options, like new TV interfaces that present recommendations from various critics and tastemakers, or from your friends. New video devices could take you straight to those shows and movies in one step, no matter which of your pay-TV or Internet video services they appear on. This could be a boon for niche and non-mainstream programs of all kinds.

So, when you hear from opponents that Unlock the Box rules will violate copyright, ask them: do you mean copyright, or the made-up right to tell people how they're allowed to watch?

And consider sending a comment to the FCC asking them to pass the Unlock the Box rules, before April 22. (Enter "15-64" in the box labeled "Proceeding Number").

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Sound artist Meara O'Reilly describes four favorite tools

Boing Boing -

Meara O'Reilly is a sound artist and educator, most recently in residence at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. She is co-creator of the Rhythm Necklace app, a musical sequencer that uses two-dimensional geometry to create rhythms. Her collaboration with Snibbe Interactive on sound-based cymatic concert visuals for Björk's Biophilia album was included in the world tour.

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Show Notes:

OP-1 Portable Synthesizer ($849) "I have to say that the OP-1 is one of the best new instruments that's out there. I found it to be simultaneously complex and accessible. ... Essentially, it doesn't sacrifice complexity but it has great design constraints that allow you to make something right away. ... It's not a full octave and the keys are not full size. ... There's all these buttons on it that, at first don't make any sense and they sort of just have numbers or whimsical little designs on them and when you press them, all of a sudden there's this advanced functionality."

Sketch ($99) "It's kind of now my go-to design tool because it's such a focused piece of software, in terms of, it was focused specifically on what I was trying to do, which was basically prototype how something would look on a iOS device and be able to immediately export things and put them in code and put them in action, as opposed to having to do lots of, jumping through lots of hoops to export stuff. ... It's definitely great as just a basic graphic design tool ... whether it's doing a mock-up for a web page or just making a poster or a flyer or something. It does everything that Illustrator does on the basic level."

Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers ($30) "This is a really great book by Dennis DeSantis ... I love it because it fills a gap that's often left between personal creativity and highly technical software manuals. It kind of pays a bit of an homage to Brian Eno and his oblique strategies and that you can almost pick up anywhere when you're feeling stuck and looking for a new approach or idea. There's sort of just different sections that you can flip through. The format is set up as a collection of kind of problems and then solutions and it covers everything from basic music theory to different ways to beat procrastination, so it's both practical and kind of philosophical in a way."

Oblique Strategies "[Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies] is a really favorite cool tool of mine, which is originally a deck of analog playing cards, basically, that had one short instruction on each card and you would shuffle the cards and pick one at random and when you were stuck, you would do what it said and some of those instructions were like, ignore the middle or pretend you're a robot or something to force you to take kind of a radical oblique angle on the problem. Oftentimes, the solution it suggested wouldn't work but it would prod something else that would." — KK

Motorized Bicycle Kit with 36 Spoke Drive Ring ($659) I've been living in San Francisco for the last three years with all the hills. Whenever there's been a day that's kind of rainy out or cold, it makes me get on my bicycle because I know that I will have an assist. ... I was able to just to attach this to my mountain bike and it's a one-time purchase essentially. You don't have to keep replacing batteries, which are expensive over time. ... The engine is tiny and it costs about two dollars to fill up, at most. It's really cost effective once you have it and it's also incredibly efficient."

New empowering tween girl fashion and editorial brand

Boing Boing -

Epic Sky is a new fashion brand and Web site launching today that's all about empowering young teen and tween girls! Rather than just trying to guess what young people want in clothes, Epic Sky is working with hypertalented teenage designers to develop the collections and a wide network of teens and tweens to vet the products and contribute content to the site, from DIY projects to photos to op/eds. Monika Rose and Marian Kwon founded the company last year and my wife Kelly Sparks joined in January as design director! I've never seen Kelly more energized by a brand's vision and the creativity of all the people involved, especially her teenage collaborators. Congratulations to everyone at Epic Sky! From the Epic Sky site:

We believe in supporting girls and encouraging them to share their voices. We invite girls everywhere to participate in building this platform with us; a next generation brand crafted to share girl experiences and empower girls all over the world.

Moreover, we work with teens to create the clothes they love, and invite them to have a say in what they want. We work with girl designers to develop collections that we manufacture and sell on the site. In addition, we sell on-trend fashion essentials approved by our advisory board of 50 teens + tweens.

We bring it all together here at our one-of-a-kind online destination where girls can shop, read, get inspired, and experience a community which values their stories and passions.

Epic Sky

Epic Sky bathing suit designs by Antje Worring, 17:

Meet Epic Sky jewelry designer Ellie Toole, 16:


Panama Papers: Could Pirate Party Co-Founder Birgitta Jónsdóttir Become Iceland's next PM?

Democracy Now! Videos -

Iceland's Pirate Party has seen a surge of support following the publication of the Panama Papers, which led to the resignation of the country's prime minister.

Leaked documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed that Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson owned an offshore company with his wife, which he failed to declare when he entered Parliament. He is accused of concealing millions of dollars’ worth of family assets. We speak to the group's co-founder, former WikiLeaks volunteer Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is now a member of the Icelandic Parliament.

Watch Part 1


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