commentary by Steve Effros Red Flag – Digital Rights Management I don’t raise the "red flag" often. This is one of those times. It is critical that the cable industry spend more time focusing on the myriad complicated issues surrounding "digital rights management," what we used to simply call "copyright," before others focus the debate for us. The reason is simple. Our infrastructure is at the heart of the debate, and it is likely that whatever "solutions" are devised to the problems perceived, they will hit us directly. I have raised DRM issues in several forums. Each time, understandably, eyes glaze over and confusion sets in as industry segments seem to say "…yes, that’s important, but not for me directly." Wrong. When I talk about Digital Rights Management, I am talking about the complex set of issues surrounding how copyrighted material can be distributed in digital form and still allow some control over the use and particularly redistribution of that material. Cable is central to this since it is both the primary deliverer of digital product, and also the primary provider of broadband capability to the home, thus the primary avenue for redistribution. The fear of program producers and owners, of course, is that their products will be "napsterized". Two recent legal decisions prove how important this is to us. In the first, Verizon has been told it has to release names of customers to theoretically aggrieved copyright holders. It objected, saying the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) should be read to require more than an unsupported allegation for Verizon to be forced to breach customer privacy. Verizon lost. It will go up to the Supreme Court, I am sure. The second case, just days ago, said creators of computer programs used for peer-to-peer file sharing (advanced napster) are not liable for the potentially illegal acts of users of those programs, but those more directly connected with the illegal uses might be. Could that include the broadband supplier who can identify that type of use? That’s a question we MUST be concerned about! Is cable going to become the "enforcer" of copyright protection? Maybe we should – but it is a subject we better explore carefully from all sides, and make sure we understand all the implications before deciding! Right now, others are trying to decide for us. The MPAA, for instance, is introducing bills in state legislatures that allegedly "strengthen" cable theft laws. But they would also do other things, potentially making operators copyright enforcers. Most state associations and operators I have talked to do not even know this is happening. The NCTA has been doing an excellent job on some DRM issues, such as the plug-and-play agreement with the CEA. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. We have to spend the time, money and brainpower to keep on top of this whole jigsaw puzzle because the ultimate picture once it is all put together will inevitably have us in it. We cannot afford to have others such as the MPAA, computer companies, the NAB or "consumer" or "privacy" advocates, however legitimate their various needs and interests, dictate our role. We must be in the middle of this one – and both knowledgeable and actively involved as participants in the ongoing debates. Those will get more numerous and louder. We have to be prepared. Silence is not an option. "Working behind the scenes" only will allow others to frame the public debate. Don’t let that happen.