FCC’s STB “Unlock-the-Box” Is a Trojan Horse to Unlock Copyright Licensing

When a PR tactic masquerades as principle or sound policy a mess inevitably ensues.

Google and Public Knowledge, the two leading corporate and interest group entities respectively that are opposed to copyright in America, plotted that they could disguise their real intent to “unlock copyright licensing” and devalue the valuable “information flows” of the $200b a year U.S. pay TV industry, with a clever #UnlockTheBox consumer “gift”/sneak attack… just like Greeks did in the Trojan War using the purported “gift” of a huge wooden “Trojan Horse” as a trick to secretly enable soldiers hidden inside the horse to gain entry to the securely protected city of Troy.

We now know that this FCC AllVid/Set-Top-Box (STB) rulemaking was not really about unlocking set-top-boxes for consumer benefit, but predominantly about unlocking copyright licenses for the nation’s most valuable video programming – to de facto, open-force more proprietary information to be free on the Open Internet.

First, we know this is about unlocking copyright licensing because the “powers at be” here, Google, Public Knowledge and the FCC, apparently are unwilling to accept and implement their impressive consumer “victory” in actually unlocking the set-top box and saving consumers ~$20b annually in STB fees via a free replacement app designed to ensure full protection of the sanctity of pay TV copyright licensing contracts going forward.

Instead, Google, Public Knowledge and the FCC appear bent on risking the $20b in annual consumer savings that they claimed they wanted, by demanding what most everyone with copyright interests vehemently opposes, i.e. FCC assertion of some imagined, extra-jurisdictional, authority over copyright to impose new requirements or processes that de facto enable the FCC alone roving authority to compel changes in copyright licensing contracts in the future.

Second, we know this is about unlocking copyright licensing because anti-copyright crusader Public Knowledge is claiming that the statutory U.S. Copyright Office is no expert on copyright and cannot be objective on copyright enforcement because it is Congress’ statutory implementer of the copyright clause in the U.S. Constitution. Good luck with that position in court.

Third, we know this is about unlocking copyright licensing because the FCC is unwilling to slow its ramming speed pace in order to gain more needed public input, transparency, and consensus-building, or more appropriately, to issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking to respect the due process required in the Administrative Procedures Act.

Finally, we know that this STB plot is subterfuge to unlock copyright licensing because the same Google gaggle that has so publiclyopposes a “backdoor” for government law enforcement to gain access to encrypted devices/apps with a court order to investigate urgent criminal or national security matters is pushing the FCC to force their video competitors’ pay TV apps to design in a de facto “back door” for the FCC to essentially access and change the apps programming that protects the sanctity of the copyright licensing inside — without court authorization.

It is telling that the Google gaggle demands that its apps and the private information inside them is should be treated as absolutely inviolate from government intrusion, but when it comes to the sanctity of their competitors’ apps, and the valuable privately-owned and contractually licensed copyright information inside them, that must be made accessible to Google to monetize via the FCC – which by the way does not have statutory authority or a court warrant to do so.

In short, the FCC should slow down and listen to the nation’s real and statutory copyright authorities, the U.S. Copyright Office and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees which oversee copyrights established by the United States Constitution.

It is apparent to most everyone observing this STB rulemaking that this is not about consumers or set-top-box savings for consumers. It’s a well-planned, clever, modern-day Trojan Horse subterfuge to let Google and Public Knowledge sneak inside the FCC rulemaking process and into the pay TV industry’s apps so they can unlock copyright licensing and open-force video programming to be free.

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Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an internetization consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Google competitors, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.” Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.

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