Ask for forgiveness, not for Permission

by F.

“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission,” goes the saying, and time/place shifting for TV is another instance where it seems to apply. First it was Tivo. Now Sling Media and Orb Networks have devices that allow you to watch the TV you’ve previously recorded—but remotely. This is very cool.

The incumbents don’t want change, which is probably why they see these disruptive technologies as illegal:

Many entertainment industry figures, including Bob Zitter, HBO’s chief technology officer, have voiced doubts about the legality of the new technology. “Content owners don’t like it [the Slingbox] because they think it violates their copyrights,” he said during a panel discussion at a broadcasting conference this year.

Of course, new technologies often don’t fit into old categories, especially legal categories, so it is often an open question whether the new technology is “illegal” or not. Most legal arguments on one side or the other are self-serving and moralistic, naturally. But, given that technological change is one of the only ways human welfare improves, I tend to opt for change, as do many consumers (at least when it comes to electronics—cloned meat is another matter).

So, faced with ossified legal categories and flexible new technologies, perhaps the best strategy is to push ahead and worry about the legal distinctions later:

The Washington DC-based Consumer Electronics Association argues that technologies such as TiVo and the Slingbox are clear examples of innovative devices that would never have made it to market if the companies first had to ask permission of the content owners. “Just like the Betamax and the iPod, the Slingbox and TiVo rely on fair use – the ability to use content for non-infringing purposes without the explicit permission of the copyright owner,” the association maintains.