When Dean recorded HBO’s new Tom Hanks-produced miniseries “John Adams”—which is not a pay-per-view or on-demand program—he was surprised to see it was flagged by Tivo’s Macrovision software, which controls how many times you may watch a program and how long you can store it before it’s automatically deleted. Now the question is, was this a mistake on the part of HBO or Dean’s cable provider Comcast? Or—considering HBO’s infamous anti-consumer stance on time-shifted programming—is it the beginning of a sneaky “back-door” approach to locking down all their content, something Tivo’s own people said would probably not happen when they added Macrovision to their recorders in 2004?
Update: Missdona has provided a couple of useful links in the comments below. If you experience similar issues with select programs being incorrectly DRMed, check out these threads for advice on how to resolve the situation.
Here’s what Dean experienced:
“This morning, my kids and I decided to watch a TiVo HD recording we made last night of The Making of John Adams. This is the new upcoming mini-series by Tom Hanks and others about the lives and accomplishments of John Adams. When we started watching it, I first found that the TiVo had flagged it for mandatory auto-deletion within a few hours of being deleted, due to ‘copyright policies.’ Hmm – never saw that one before.
After about 5 minutes watching, my oldest son came into the room, and we decided to start it over so he could enjoy it. What I found was something I’ve never seen before and has me pretty frosted. When I backed up to the beginning and attempted to watch it again, TiVo would not allow me to – again stating that it had violated copyright policies. After countless attempts at forward and reverse moves, we found that we could now not watch any portion of the show! I rebooted the TiVo, and found the same thing. No can do – the TiVo/HBO/Comcast programming had locked it from being viewed again! Then as promised at 11:29am EST, it deleted from my hard drive and there was nothing I could do about it.
Randomly flagged programming has happened before with the Tivo—for example, a Fox Movie Channel broadcast in 2006 triggered Tivo’s recording restrictions, but seems to have been an error on the broadcaster’s part. Is the same thing happening with HBO? What’s suspicious about this is that Dean discovered both the making of featurette and the miniseries were blocked, so more than one program was flagged.
In this Wired interview from November 2004, Tivo’s general counsel assured the public that it was unlikely (ha!) that content providers would take advantage of the Macrovision technology to restrict recording of regular programming:
What if the higher-value content is just the beginning? This could be a Trojan horse.
That would be a violent blow to consumer flexibility. You could end up in a situation where different products by different manufacturers would have different rules. I don’t think we would go along with it.
With the cable companies in bed with the studios, TiVo could be the last line of defense for the DVR as we know it.
Sometimes I feel that way. We’re aware of the danger, and the slippery slope. The danger is that DRM can tilt the balance of copyright so that ultimately there’s no concept of fair use, because the content owners dictate what the rules are. But I think content owners are beginning to recognize that if you make things too restrictive, then consumers will find nonlegal ways to achieve what they want.
We don’t know where Dean lives. Has anyone else tried to record this miniseries, and if so, was it flagged with DRM protection for you? (Note: it appears that Dean recorded it in HD, so if anyone who can test this with an HD Tivo, that would be even sweeter.)
“UPDATED: HBO’s new miniseries IS locked down for TiVo recording” [The Culture of Ownership] (Thanks to Missdona!)