Windows Vista Blocks Some Users From Recording Shows

Dennis Faas's picture

Some users of Windows Vista Media Center have been reportedly blocked from recording some NBC Universal TV shows, receiving error messages that read "restrictions set by the broadcaster and/or originator prohibit recording of this program" instead.

One person prevented from recording the NBC shows is an IT director in Northern California who says this is indicative of why the current Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes are flawed. DRM schemes affect people who intend to legally consume content, with no intention of stealing the content. People intent on stealing content already have ways around DRM.

Most of those users prevented from recording the shows used digital cable with ATI cablecard tuners, but a user of Silicon Dust's HDHomeRun external tuner had the same problem. Users of Vista Media Center have complained about being barred from recording shows before.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), this is the first case they've heard of where equipment voluntarily obeyed broadcast flag-like restrictions on TV content digitally broadcast over-the-air.

A broadcast flag is a set of status bits (or a "flag") sent in the data stream of a digital television program that indicates whether or not the data stream can be recorded, or if there are any restrictions on recorded content. The ability to flag broadcast content was created by the ATSC standard which governs digital TV broadcasts in the United States.

A broadcast flag cannot restrict the use of broadcast content by itself. An FCC regulation required manufacturers of DTV-receiving devices to detect and respond to "switched on" broadcast flags. Opposition from the EFF and others caused the courts to overturn the FCC regulation because it handed control over your hardware to a remote authority and limited your right to your fair use of media. Consequently, DTV manufacturers are not legally required to force their devices to detect and respond to the broadcast flag.

It appears that Microsoft voluntarily chose to obey the content restrictions with Windows Vista. Microsoft is under no legal obligation to look for and respond in any way when broadcast flags are sent by NBC's digital stations, so Microsoft did not have to build Vista to look for and refuse to record a program that has its broadcast flag turned on.

The EFF speculates that it may have been an unintended mistake by Microsoft caused by the extensive DRM systems Vista has in place elsewhere. It could also have to do with Vista's system for obeying CGMS-A, another copy control system Microsoft voluntarily implemented in Vista.

Microsoft needs to confess if it's a technical problem and issue a fix for it as soon as possible. If it's a deliberate feature of Vista, Microsoft has some explaining to do since that would mean the company puts the interests of its content holders above those of its customers.

Microsoft is currently planning to stop selling Windows XP at the end of June. Microsoft has tried with little success to market Windows Vista to consumers and the IT community. Since that hasn't worked, Microsoft has resorted to implementing a sort of 'character assassination' of it own Windows XP in their latest Windows Feature Comparison (PDF), the latest sign of their growing desperation in selling Windows Vista.

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