DRM is BadThe conspiracy theorists tried to warn us that it would happen, but Congress still choose to ignore consumer rights when they passed the “broadcast flag” legislation. Under the program, DVR makers were forced to recognize “do not copy” rules that could be applied to certain types of content. So far the rules haven’t prevented any HDTV content from showing up on the bit torrent networks, but they have been successful at preventing consumers from being able to transfer HDTV content (that they paid for) throughout their homes. The bill has also formalized rules to prevent consumers from recording pay per view content.

As part of the legislation, there were also rules set up in the US, that prevented cable companies from abusing the copy never tag on over the air content. Apparently though, because the FTC has no authority in Canada, these fair use rights are not required. As a result, Vista customers north of the border, have complained that they’ve been prevented from recording certain types of content, unless it’s on their cable company’s DVR.

The application of the broadcast flag hasn’t just been tagged to HDTV content, but has been inserted into the analog signals as well. Because Microsoft respects, the broadcast flag, they are prevented from recording shows, while the Canadian telcos are allowed to ignore the FTC restrictions, that regulate Microsoft’s recording capabilities. In a few instances, Canadian customers have complained that they have not even been allowed to watch live TV because the DRM shows up as, copy never. Complaints about the do not copy “errors” started showing up in one of the Green Button’s forums, about a month and a half ago. Since that time Microsoft MVPs have gotten involved and have confirmed that the blocked content is being caused by the local cable companies applying the broadcast flag to content that consumers should be allowed to record.

As, more and more customers have stepped forward, it’s become clear that this is an issue affecting more than a few Canadian Vista customers. Here are a few of the quotes, from some of the posters who have been locked out of, one of Vista’s best features.

Almach1 wrote “For the first time today microsoft or Direct TV is blocking something!!!! Direct TV lets me whatch every channel except for the IFC channel. Independant movie channel.!!! This is such bull. Does anybody else have this limitation with premium channels like HBO Cenemax ect….????? it’s a regular sattelte tv signal connected over composite cables to my tuner card. I thought those signals don’t carry DRM so it must be in the downloaded Guide from microsoft that the permissions are restricted.!!!!”

Randy G wrote “I am on Shaw in Canada, and they are putting “Copy Never”‘ on a TON of shows, all the movies, even lots of kid’s shows my three year old likes to watch. Even reruns of Reba that my wife likes.

This is not PPV, or VOD.

I know it’s CGMS-A “copy never” because I am an electronics junkie, and a professional programmer. I trapped the signal on line-21 on my oscilloscope. Then I made a circuit that blanked it out. And that fixed it, period, no more guessing. It’s not noise . . . This problem appears to be centered to Canada. None of the above rules apply here. No rules apply here for CGMS, actually. So the cable companies, so far Shaw, and recently it appears Star Choice, and Rogers, have decided to abuse it.

My response from Shaw was ‘ya, we know. We don’t support Microsoft PVRs, complain to them, not us. If you want to record everything again, buy a Shaw PVR, it has no problems recording any channels'”

PeteJ wrote “I think your experience shows that R2 and the similar feature added to Vista are at the root of this issue. I looks like we will need to rebuild and go pre r2 which is a huge hassle but at this time it is the only option as post r2 you are just playing russian roulette with recordings. It won’t take long for people to drop mce altogether since most people don’t even know about TGB or other such forums.

If MS fixes this in an update I will upgrade to Vista tomorrow. Until then, I agree, there is no reason.”

For as far as the digital revolution has propelled media forward, it’s also taken us several steps back. Right now, if you buy a DVD, you are allowed to give it friends or even sell it to someone else, but if you buy a digital file, you lose your fair use rights and end up with a non-transferable license to a file. As HDTV and downloadable content, continue to suck consumers in, more and more fair use rights are being sacrificed. When TiVo and Microsoft agreed to support the broadcast flag, it was under the assumption that the cable providers would be forced to play by the same rules, but if the Canandian telcos are allowed to block Microsoft Vista from copying content that a user has paid for, then there is little incentive for Tivo, Microsoft or any DVR manufacturers to respect these rules outside of the United States.

If you live in Canada and don’t want to see your cable companies block competitors from offering a superior DVR, then I would encourage you to file a complaint with the CRTC and asked them to stop the Canadian telcos from applying bogus do not copy tags to your favorite shows.