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Analog Hole Opponents Square Off

Content providers and consumer equipment suppliers squared off in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on the analog hole.

Briefly, the analog hole ( it is not abbreviated for obvious reasons) is a copy-protection gap in which protected digital content is stripped of that armor in the conversion to the analog format in which most people still receive their TV content.

Because that unprotected analog content can then be re-digitized and illegally distributed online, studios are pushing Congress to legislate a technological solution, while consumer equipment manufacturers, like TiVo, and fair use advocates--sometimes the same person--argue that it is an overbroad solution in search of a problem.

Chris Cookson, chief technology officer for Warner Bros. Entertainment, in testimony submitted for the hearing, argued that a two-step technological fix was the answer. That would consist of applying both a code and watermark to the content.

"It’s been claimed that this approach is too broad and it will impact everything from cars and toasters to F-16s," he said, "that it will prevent timeshifting of favorite programs from HBO. Or it will banish TiVo and squash innovation. We’ve also heard that it is too weak and not worth doing since it could be hacked by determined hackers. None of these are true."

TiVo General Counsel Matt Zinn also weighed in with testimony, saying that "the studios have not demonstrated that the analog hole is contributing in any way to the piracy problem."  He said a proposed bill would "eviscerate" user's copying rights, preventing them from copying a show from a TiVo in the living room to one in the bedroom, for example.

The subject of the hearing is a bill (H.R. 4569) introduced last fall that would establish the content-protection technology.