The Pet Peevo with TiVo

I'm sorry to see that my blog entry on recent controversies over freedom turned into a thread about TiVo. But since TiVo seems to be such a hot button, I would like to address that issue directly. I made the point in the discussion that TiVo did not license its hardware under the GPL (duh, GPL is a software license, after all), or even a GPL-like license. So all the fuss about what rights you have with respect to TiVo hardware is nonsense. Sure, you have the right to modify the hardware because you bought it. But you will void your warranty, and TiVo is under no obligation to provide you with the schematic, BIOS, or anything else to make it easy to modify the hardware. Having said that, let's cut through all the posturing about what rights we have, and get to the real issue here, which is what motivated TiVo to use a digital signature, and what would motivate people to modify the TiVo software and run the modified version on a TiVo box.

TiVo has a business model. Two of the most important aspects of this business model include:

  1. Charging its customers a monthly fee for program data, updates,and services.
  2. Collecting usage data for various purposes, including making deals with content providers and advertisers.

If it was easy to modify the TiVo code and run the modified code on your TiVo box, what would people be most motivated to modify? Be honest, here, because we all know that the first thing on people's list would not be to change the background color of the program guide. Here's what most people would want to change:

  1. They would stop the software from sending usage data to TiVo.
  2. They would modify the software to use publicly available program data so that they wouldn't have to pay TiVo a monthly fee.

In short, people want what the TiVo box has to offer without having to support TiVo's business model.

The folks at TiVo aren't stupid. They know these two things would be the first targets for modification. So TiVo made it difficult to run modified TiVo software on the box. Trust me, the folks at TiVo aren't wringing their hands over an evil plot to limit the freedom of it's customers. TiVo's just wants to remain in business, and that means TiVo has to try to prevent people from undermining its business model.

What are your motives?

I can understand why people don't want their TiVo sending usage data. Personally, I don't have a big problem with this. I have nothing about which to be ashamed, and I don't think the folks at TiVo run queries on the database so that they can say, "Hey, did you see this? Nick Petreley recorded three episodes of Dukes of Hazzard this week! Somebody alert the bad taste police!" Yeah, I can see that happening.

But it's a valid complaint because it does invade your privacy. TiVo's motive isn't evil, it's just trying to make money. But it's not evil to want to protect your privacy, either. It is one reason, albeit a very minor one, I am building a MythTV box. That's the logical and ethical solution to this problem. Don't buy a TiVo, or if you have one, stop using it and build a box that doesn't send usage data to anyone.

The fact that TiVo has a business model that is based on a monthly fee is not a valid complaint, however. It's another part of its business model, and it harms no one, because nobody is forcing you to buy the TiVo and use their services. You may not like that business model, but the fact that TiVo makes money on monthly subscriptions is what allows TiVo to create a product that is good enough that you'd want to have it and modify it. Collecting a monthly fee in order to pay your employees to make and provide this product does not constitute an evil motive.

Indeed, one could argue that it is unethical to undermine that business model by modifying their software to circumvent it. You want the best TiVo has to offer without having to comply with the business model that keeps TiVo afloat. Even if you don't think it's unethical, it isn't very smart. If enough people did this, TiVo would probably go out of business, and your source for "the best that TiVo has to offer" that you want to modify would dry up. Either that, or TiVo would switch from Linux to a proprietary operating system in order to stop people from undermining its business model, in which case you would have no ability to use any of its source code on a TiVo box, PC or any other box.

There's nothing wrong with disliking the monthly fee, but the most ethical solution to avoid paying the monthly fee is to buy or build a product that doesn't require a monthly fee. That's yet another reason why I am building a MythTV box.

Objection denied

I fully anticipate someone to point out that TiVo's business model fits one of the descriptions of evil in my other blog entry: "The attempt to satisfy one's own desire for power and/or wealth prohibits others from engaging in perfectly ethical practices, that is evil." The question is, "Is it perfectly ethical to circumvent TiVo's business model after you bought the product knowing that TiVo sustains itself by charging you a monthly fee?" I would argue that it is unethical to circumvent this business model. However, one need not establish that it is unethical to see that what TiVo is doing does not fit the definition of evil.

TiVo isn't prohibiting you from engaging in ethical practices. It doesn't prevent you from watching one show or another. It doesn't prevent you from recording a show for watching later (that is, after all, one of the things it does best). It doesn't prevent you from copying a show to another medium according to fair use. TiVo is complying with the GPL, so it isn't engaging in unethical practices with respect to its use of GPL code. Last, TiVo is not forcing you to buy a TiVo box. Some people have mentioned complaints related to DMCA issues, but if TiVo has to comply with them according to the law, that's a problem with DMCA, not the GPL or TiVo.

Here is a more clear explanation of what I meant by that definition of evil. Suppose DRM were implemented globally such that you could not possibly get the latest album by the band Slug Cookies except through DRM channels (no, there is no such band, at least not that I know of). You have no alternatives. If you want this music, you have to get it through DRM channels, and the DRM prevents you from fair use practices such as transferring the songs from your computer to a CD so you can listen to the songs in your car. This is what I mean by, "The attempt to satisfy one's own desire for power and/or wealth prohibits others from engaging in perfectly ethical practices, that is evil."

The fact is that, today, you can buy an album on CD and engage in all the fair use practices you want. Nobody is forcing you to use a DRM-based method of obtaining the same music. Likewise, you do not have to buy a TiVo in order to enjoy the benefits of having a DVR. You can get a cable box with DVR capabilities. You can build your own box with MythTV, Freevo, or one of the commercial alternatives.

The bottom line is that TiVo made good on its obligations to the GPL. It released its source code. If you don't like what you can or cannot do with that source code, don't download it. If you don't like what you can or cannot do with the TiVo box, don't buy one. You have alternatives. Nobody is restricting your freedom to buy or build alternatives that work exactly the way you want them to work.

Back to the point

For those who missed the point of the other blog entry, or just ignored it, here it is in a nutshell:

I have a feeling that, now that we have finally reached a point in history where most people realize that open source is a Good Thing, the people who used to have to fight over this issue are feeling marginalized and ignored. Perhaps they are feeding their need for attention by finding new controversies to exploit, or by seeking out ways to rail against anything that rubs their open source idealism the wrong way.

I, for one, am glad that we've reached a point where we don't have to fight as hard to make people understand the benefits of open source. Not everyone is educated, and not everyone who is educated at all is fully educated, but I'm glad it's not as big a struggle as it used to be.

I can only hope that people will understand the difference between fighting for the GPL and fighting about DRM. I can only hope that people who understand the superiority of open source will learn to be confident enough about it that they don't have to feel threatened by praise for something that is not open source. We all need to be careful to discern the difference between software, hardware, policies, licenses, and how they are used, and whether or not there is evil intent involved.


I will gladly admit to having bad taste in many respects, but I have never seen an entire episode of Dukes of Hazzard.


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rico16135's picture

While tivo is not in violation of the gpl, they did find a loophole to exploit. Is that ethical? If I buy hardware from anyone it becomes mine. It matters not what the intent of the company was. Its just like buying an old crappy computer. Just because it runs one thing does not mean i can't put something else on it. I bought mine at a garage sale. Am I being unethical by trying to unlock the hardware that I OWN? I'm sorry but your view's are a bit misguided.

FOCUS people

Anonymous's picture

I would like to have someone tell me:

1. Why they bought a Tivo instead of building a Myth TV box (it’s far better anyway, even my wife thinks it’s easy to use) and more importantly,

2. How would you suggest a company like Tivo could secure their investment following the laws (in lies the REAL problem) while following the licensing of the software other than they already have? Would it be better if it were denied access to the network, or listings? That way you could change it the way people here are arguing about, yet still be equally useless? How about all the cell phones out there...Why not attack Motorola or Verizon for not letting me on the network with my altered software? Could it be because if they did they would open up to billing fraud or the real issue of being open to allowing people to break the law? Why do you think all the p2p sites out there eventually lost/settled? Could it be because the argument of “if someone gets killed with a fork, how is the fork manufacturer guilty?

Wrong Wrong Wrong - It is a big thing

Anonymous's picture

The basic premise of the GPL is "freedom to tinker". It works because of the underlying understanding that "what you get, you give" (i.e. because you get Linux and the contribution of thousands of developers for free, you give back your code for free).

For commercial developers, the choices should be simple:
- Choose a business model that respects the GPL
- If the business model does not respect the GPL, don’t use GPL software.

What TVIO seem to have done is
a. Chosen a business model
b. Used linux to develop the unit
c. Found out that because they used Linux, someone might hack their box and break their business model, so locked it down it to ensure no-one can hack it.
d. Sold their boxes and put an innocent look on their faces and said that it complies with the GPL.

What TVIO seem to have NOT done is
a. Chosen a business model
b. Evaluated linux as a potential OS
c. Found out that if they used Linux, someone might hack their box and break their business model, so chose a proprietary OS.
d. Sold their boxes

You can try to put forward as may arguments as you like about, saving the business, or the motives behind those who want to modify the code, or not being forced to buy their product, or building your own product, or even if their motives are evil or just a shade of naughtyness, but that is all irrelevent froth.

Whatever way you cut it, TIVO took Linux (for free) and then crippled it to fit the business model that they wanted. They may have just squeaked passed the letter of the GPL, but what they have also done is broken the freedom to tinker and given nothing back to the community. They have opened the floodgates for all of the Companies who want Linux for free but under their terms.

If you understand that, they you may begin to see that it is a big thing.

Bravo! You hit the nail on

Anonymous's picture

Bravo! You hit the nail on the head. I don't understand why this is such a difficult concept for everyone to get. The GPL license has terms and conditions - if you want to use it; abide by the terms and conditions. If you don't, go elsewhere. GPLv3 simply firms up the language of GPLv2 to prevent people from using loopholes to circumvent the intent of the license, which is freedom. Hopefully, all the latest news about the Microsoft / Novell fiasco should be enough to wake people up.


Anonymous's picture

I received a Tivo last year as a Christmas gift. I didn't want it, but I also didn't want to hurt the feelings of the gift-giver. I also didn't want to subscribe on a monthly lease fee, so I paid the full freight.

I don't like it. It's about control, and the freedom to tinker. It's an emotional thing. So, I too will soon be constructing a MythTV box, which I had been planning to do when I opened the surprise Christmas gift.

Tivo exploited a tiny little hole in the GPL. We may not like it, but my (limited) understanding of the GPL tells me it's likely legal. So, I do support modification of the GPL to ensure that the letter and spirit of the GPL more accurately coincide. Regarding the current controversy over the proposed modifications, I do side more closely with the FSF than the Linux kernel developers.

I hate the wasted $$$ and I hate the Tivo.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. If there weren't, I would be very unhappy. I look forward to the challenge of constructing a MythTV box, both the frustration of getting it to work, and the eventual gratification of having a device that serves my needs.

Do as I say not as I do

Anonymous's picture

Wow, good thing my custom hosts file blocks banner ads. I wouldn't want to reward Linux Journal with ad impressions for this diarrhea blog.

According to the author of this diarrhea blog, tivo purchasers or those planning on purchasing a tivo need to accept the terms of the tivo manufacturer's business model, and not complain, or goes elsewhere for their hardware purchase, even though the hardware is being sold with software that enables it to do what it does and is licensed under the GPL, but the end user is blocked from exercising its rights provided by the GPL.

Out of all the comments, no one brought up the irony of such an observation. Sure, the original statement and premise of the whole post was to maximize banner ad impressions by creating a controversy in an area that historically guaranteed controversy. But its disappointing that with 52 or so comments, the comments did devolve into the typical communist/capitalist, closed driver/open driver arguments, without pointing out the irony of the hypothesis.

What about the manufacturer's obligations? You state that the buyer of tivo hardware has an obligation to support the business model of the manufacturer, but under your own reasoning, doesn't the manufacturer have the obligation of conforming to the license model of the GPL, or in your own words, move on to a different hardware choice (license choice in this case) where the obligation to stay true to the manufacturer's business model, or in this case the obligation to abide by the license terms don't require what is required under the GPL?


btw, what happens to the tivo purchasers, who pay the monthly fee and otherwise abide by the terms of the manufacturer's business model when they purchase the hardware, and a few months or years down the line they start disallowing the recording of area professional sports games that don't sell out. And then they start disallowing the recording of news programs, or only allowing their recording to remain usable for up to six hours after originally recorded? And when they start disallowing the recording of concerts broadcast on television? And when they start disallowing recordings from being transferred from one tivo to another in the same house, or being played back on a different television from the one it was connected to when originally recorded? And when they start expiring all recordings aged over 72 hours?

Whose obligation is it to support a company's business model as these restrictions are progressively asserted (as they already have done accidently with some local cable stations and tivo, and some broadcast stations and tivo).

I followed a link over from Newsforge to read this post. I figured, let me see what stories are on Linux Journal, I haven't been there in close to a year. Maybe I'll read something on clusters or something else interesting. Newsforge themselves are guilty of providing hot air stories lately, an author struggling to meet a quota or deadline, a publisher demanding more stories for increased banner impressions, whatever. It's sad to see Linux Journal, one of the magazines and later netzines that one would least expect hot air from, to stoop to such a diarrhea of a story, or diarrhea of a blog entry. Unlike one of the first posters who stated he follows this author's stories or blog entries, from this blog entry and from the author's self defense in his own comments in the comments section of this post, I won't be one to follow this author's dribbles. The reasoning behind the hypothesis of this story is flawed, the hypothesis is flawed, and the post is designed to create controversy apparently for either building up the author's own notoriety, or for creating traffic to increase banner ad impressions. Whatever the reason, its disappointing to see it coming from, or being sanctioned by Linux Journal.

modify but not use?

smoe's picture

TIVO took and used code licensed under the GPL. The people who wrote that code selected the GPL so that their work would be available for everyone to use, always. If TIVO wanted to produce a product without modifiable software they should have written their own or paid for a commercial license. The GPL licenser's just expect back from TIVO what TIVO got from them, Free software, free to modify and free to use.

If TIVO's monthly subscription service is good they should have nothing to worry about, people are not going to go the trouble and risk of modifying their TIVO box without a reason. Will other companies spring up and offer competing subscription services and TIVO knock offs? you better believe it. That's the GPL at it's best. You are not forced to pay because you're locked in, you would be free to find a better service or to start one yourself.

Why I don't like this rant...

Anonymous's picture

You're just such an ego-fiend. You started the article with the whole "OH gee, I'm so important that I started a discussion and now I have to address it like I'm the Dad". You could have just said "Here's an article on Tivo". We don't care how important you think you are...and try to write a bit more in 3rd person, would you? The first person articles died out in the 10th grade...

Wrong argument Nicholas

JJSg's picture

I've gotten a kick out of some of your rants, but I insist that you focus on the issues. You say, "I made the point in the discussion that TiVo did not license its hardware under the GPL (duh, GPL is a software license, after all), or even a GPL-like license. So all the fuss about what rights you have with respect to TiVo hardware is nonsense."

But the issue as far as FSF and other FOSS folks are concerned has nothing whatever to do with anyone's rights with respect to TiVo hardware. The issue has to do with TiVo's rights with regard to GPL'ed software.

There are basically three sides to that issue:
- They have followed the letter but not the spirit of GPLv2
- They have violated the GPLv2
- They are adding to the number of Linux devices, so who gives a damn?

I personally feel that the 1st is closest to the right answer. But unless they are taken to court, we'll never know for sure. And the Linux kernel developers seem to have taken the 3rd position, so that is very unlikely to happen.

Meanwhile, the FSF seems to believe that the 1st position is absolutely true, and possibly the 2nd. At the least, they are going to try to make sure that it never happens again. Whether you agree with their thinking or not, the GPL is their license and your arguments in favor of TiVo apply equally to the FSF. Their concern is that too many people accept the 3rd position, and that erodes the GPL, which will eventually allow some nasty types to break it forever.

Regarding your previous blog, I believe that the entire FOSS community agrees that GPLv2 has been a resounding success. The FSF believes that it needs to be improved to make it more acceptable internationally, and while they're at it, why not strengthen it against other threats to software freedom (which some describe as poking companies they don't like in the eye). This is their right (even the pokey eye thing--but they should brace themselves for the consequences). We will see how much of the community agrees with them fairly quickly. Then we will find out if they are correct somewhat later (altho' my comment 'The bigger picture' in Glen Moody's post, 'The Great Software Schism' may be a factor).

Why TiVo should be allowed to make fun of GPL?

Anonymous's picture

I don't understand the arguments in this article. Since TiVo business model could be damaged by letting their software be used in the real GPL spirit, let's let them keep with their business and forget the GPL!
a) they saved a lot of money using already build, royalty free software, but that software happens to be Free Software
b) they removed the Freedom in that software with a trick (you can't modify it and run in that hardware... hacks/improvements are forbidden)
So? Why on earth should I defend TiVo? Do they want to keep going with their business model? Well, use proprietary software instead, don't steal our Freedom. Sure Windows Media Center edition would satisfy much better their need of "closeness", DRM and so on. Or they can build a new OS from scratch...

"TiVo's motive isn't evil,

Anonymous's picture

"TiVo's motive isn't evil, it's just trying to make money."

The two halves of this sentence bear no relationship to one another, unless you intend to suggest that an evil can be excused by a motive to make money. I don't suppose this was the intention.

Unless any readers are completely against all forms of capitalism, I think it's safe to assume that making money is a fair and reasonable motive. I suspect we all try to make money. No problem. So let's completely cast that aside as a given.

The problem then becomes, is Tivo doing "evil" (or "harm" or "collateral damage") through its actions? It shouldn't matter if the actions were motivated by money, a belief or part of another wider goal, or just on a whim. The question is just that, are they doing evil?

So on the basis that motive is hardly relevant, I'll try and give my own take...

If they are taking people rights away, then possibly they are "evil". The issue is muddied by real world complexities though.

In Tivo's favour:
- It's true nobody is forced to buy a Tivo.
- There are other alternatives
- The rights taken away are small in the grand scheme of things

Against Tivo however:
- The average person can not be expected to analys a detailed and complex contract and judge the pros and cons of losing some freedoms; this is why this kind of thing is often regulated by law (just about every country has a lot of "consumer rights")
- Freedoms eroded gradually over a period of many years can add up to a big loss of freedom overall

On balance I'd say they are very slightly "evil", or rather, that they are not evil at all, but that their actions bear collateral damage that diminish certain freedoms in general. It is therefore a worthy goal to try and prevent this from happening (although I'm not going so far as to say this can/should be done in GPLv3 at this point).

Finally, as for the business model, if you sign a contract saying you'll pay $X per month for Y months, then you have a legal and ethical obligation to comply (unless your loss of freedom wasn't adequately explained maybe).

If you didn't sign a contract, you can do what you want. It's no more unethical to modify your Tivo than it is to throw the thing away and cancel the subscription.

Most people are used to buying electronic goods for a one-off fee and then keeping them. The cost of technology has fallen so there's no need for a model where you pay a subscription to cover general hardware/development costs.

Producing a TV guide is a reasonable service to pay for. If you're not locked into it, and they can offer a better service than the volunteer community, then people will pay for it and it's a Good Thing.

Lose the model, not the Freedoms!

Anonymous's picture

If your business model depends on circumventing the end user's (box owner) freedoms, lose the model, not the freedoms.
If Tivo wants to continue using GNU GPLv3 software on their products, while continuing with their same busines model. Then they will need to start renting out their Tivo boxes (retain ownership) instead of selling the boxes outright (passing ownership to the end user), like the cable TV industry have been doing for decades. Heck, a lot people are buying their Tivo boxes though their cable companies now anyway.
If Tivo retains ownership of the box, then even under the GPLv3 they can lock it down any way they see fit.

The FSF position looks to be that once you (Tivo) sell that box, you no longer have the right to exert your will as to what can and cannot be done with it buy the new owner (end user). And, the end user must have a means to do so.

re: lose the model, not the freedoms

Anonymous's picture

I think you completely missed the point of the article. You *can* do whatever you want with the hardware, you just can't expect Tivo to say "Hi! Thank you so much for PUTTING US OUT OF BUSINESS!" You know what their business model is, and you should taken that into consideration before you bought the product.

Also, it's not like if you don't buy a Tivo, you're left out in the cold. There are alternatives to buying a commercial DVR, like MythTV and Freevo. Your freedom has not been restricted one single iota.

If You Want Contol? Own It!!

Anonymous's picture

Something tells me that you weren't ever a finalist on your College debating team, if you even placed. The rental model argument actually defines the point of contention between the parties quite well. Reasoning that Tivo, even under GPLv3, has every right to impose whatever limitations they feel appropriate, or are required by the content providers, on hardware that they own. However, once they sell the Tivo boxes to the customer. Under GPLv3, Tivo would need to pass on all of the freedoms they got to the new owner, and relinquish all those imposed restriction that were otherwise wholly within their rights (legally and morally) when they owned the hardware. Obviously Tivo would not, or could not, do that and realistically expect to stay in business.

So, moving to the rental model is actually a pretty slick work-around for Tivo. It's more capital intensive to start out with but it also lowers the bar for customers, and gives them a much larger potential base of subscribers. The customer actually does pay for the box with monthly rental fees, instead of putting it on their credit card. How many fewer cable subscribers do you think there would be if everyone had to put up $500.00 to buy their own digital cable box in order to subscribe. When you further consider that many people have maxed out their credit, maybe all they can do anymore is come up with monthly rental fee.

This whole issue is about having the ability to control what you own outright, and why the DMCA is so insidious. It also limits what you can do with what you own. The answer is on both issues is simple, if you want control over something OWN IT!

and what about cars ?

Zoltan's picture

Some people argue that because you own a computer device you should be able to modify it. What would that do if you applied it to a car ? Do you think that because you own a car you should be able to modify the fuel injector parameters ? Nobody would want such a feature, and nobody would complain if a car didn't run once you changed the injector's mapping.

So why on earth do some people request that their computer-device still works like with the factory settings when they modified the factory settings ?

from the GPLv3 draft 2: "execute modified versions from source code [...] such that they can implement all the same functionality" means "if you modify the program, it should run as if you didn't modify it"

"Do you think that because

Anonymous's picture

"Do you think that because you own a car you should be able to modify the fuel injector parameters ? Nobody would want such a feature...."

Actually, yes, I should be able to! It's called hot-rodding and is a time-honored tradition, at least here in the United States. Just look at the diesel pickup truck aftermarket in this country. Lots of people do exactly that--modify the fuel injector parameters, the turbo boost parameters, etc. Heck, some folks even swap out the stock turbo, exhaust, and air filter for more airflow to support the increased fuel flow, and they recalibrate their engine's computer to take full advantage of these mods. *Lots* of people want such features, and in fact, there is quite a healthy business doing these things.

"and nobody would complain if a car didn't run once you changed the injector's mapping."

Now there, I agree. You mess with the stock computer parameters (fuel injectors, turbo boost, etc.), you're on your own. It's just like with a Linksys WRT54G wireless router, the one that runs Linux; it's now called the WRT54GL. You can put whatever image you want on it, and lots of people do it. Just don't call Linksys for help unless you're using the stock image. Kinda like OpenBSD--if you're not using the GENERIC kernel, don't ask them for help. But you're still free to do it if you wish. It's called tinkering and is the source of just about all innovation.

That's all we want to be able to do with *any* device that we purchase that runs Free Software, including a TiVo--tinker with it. Why? Like with the Linksys wireless router, we bought and paid for--and thereby own--the device...but TiVo stops us. *That* is the objection and why it's bad.

About cars - and freedom of choice for others, not just yourself

Roger Lee's picture

Over here in Blighty there is, or at least used to be, a small industry based around "chipping" engine management computers - Ford used to make "high performance" versions of some of its models (that's high performance for a Ford, folks) designated "Cosworth" after the (Ford owned) company that used to make F1 engines amongst other stuff. These chips were excellent, and upped the power of the motor by quite a lot (the ads claimed 25%), and were all around good news EXCEPT to the insurance industry, who took to sending an inspector every time one of these things crashed to check what sort of software they were running. Wrong checksum - No insurance pay-out. This was OK for the owner - You make your choices and live with the consequences - but less so for the other poor unfortunates who got caught up in the accident, and then spent ages trying to get recompense for their injuries, instead of a fairly straightforward payment from the ex-drivers insurers. This practice seems to have died a death subsequently - Did Ford put some kind of protection in the system to stop this being sufficiently easy that it can be accomplished by the sort of person who buys a TiVo and signs a contract committing to a payment every month, without even reading it?

Now I'm not suggesting that anyone has sustained any physical harm from a modified DVR (and Nick has done the Dukes of Hazzard joke to death), but I really don't think an argument based on the premise that "I bought it therefore I should be able to do what I like with it" is tenable - Naive would be a better description. As someone else pointed out, this is about CHOICES. If you chip a Cosworth it won't improve the brakes, and what about innocent bystanders? If you buy a TiVo you're buying in to their business model. If this isn't acceptable then buy, or build, something else.

I, for one, do not want to live in a world where any incompetent can modify and use just about anything they feel like "because they own it" unless they are legally required to keep the bloody thing well away from me.

The sky is falling!

Nicholas Petreley's picture

This is an answer to several non-sequitur comments on both this blog entry and the one about fighting against evil.

You own your TV. If you have a recent TV, it has a computer in it that runs software. I believe you have the right to modify the software on that TV. Go for it.

What's the matter? It's not easy for you to do that? Oh my goodness!! The fact that your TV is hard to modify will obviously spiral into the inevitable fate that computers are going to become locked-down appliances that will not be able to run Linux! Unless TV manufacturers adopt GPLv3 software and provide an easy way for consumers to upload a modified version of the TV softare, we're all doomed!

The issue isn't whether it's

Robert Krawitz's picture

The issue isn't whether it's easy or hard to modify the software. The GPL doesn't say that you have to go out of your way to make it easy to modify the software. The issue is that TiVo has put a deliberate roadblock in place that certainly wasn't what the FSF ever intended to be the case.

As for breaking their business model: I don't agree that it's unethical to break someone's business model per se. If Tivo wants to enforce their business model, they should either rent the box (in which case they can impose whatever restrictions they want) or sell it only under contract (and don't use GPL software). If they go out of business, tough -- that's what the free market is. It doesn't guarantee that anyone's business model succeeds.

The practice of "we're selling this to you, but oops, we're actually not really selling it to you, because we're retaining some rights over it" really bothers me. It's basically trying to have the best of all worlds -- avoid carrying all the capital on their books and offending customers by forcing them to sign a contract up front, while retaining the kind of control and locked-in revenue stream that a rental model provides, and save the cost of developing software by using the large body of GPL software.

The warranty issue really is a non sequitur. Nobody's asking TiVo to guarantee modified equipment.

As for the software in your TV, that's also a non sequitur, unless that software is covered by the GPL.

Oh, for Pete's sake

Rufus Polson's picture

You want everyone to be all massively concerned if Tivo isn't able to maintain their business model based on selling your information and/or selling to you for a monthly charge information that's freely available.

Alternatively, you want everyone to be horrified and distressed at the prospect of the Tivo people finding themselves forced to use non-GPLed software as a base to get their incompatible-with-the-ideas-behind-the-GPL results.

Excuse me, but these are piddling concerns. Why should I care? Federal regulations, exchange rates, technologies change every day and some business finds their business model is in trouble as a result. The typical free market response is "change or die". There's some major principle saying I have to run around like a chicken with its head cut off shrieking "Oh no! The horror! Tivo's business model might be threatened!" ?

And if they switched to something else, well, whatever. People who don't know anything about FOSS won't notice, people who do will have a clearer choice to use something else. Oh, the humanity. And yet, somehow, life goes on.

This minimal stuff we're supposed to be worrying about big time.

But if someone has the gall to worry, in a context supposedly relating to free software, about the nature and future of software freedoms, *THEY'RE* chicken little? Please.

I wouldn't lose respect for you based on your simply taking an anti-GPL3 stance. But your approach is causing me to lose respect for you. Take lines like this one:
"Having said that, let's cut through all the posturing about what rights we have, "
Well, no, let's not. Your "real issue" that follows isn't "the real issue" it's a red herring. Hardly anybody on either side of the debate in fact owns a Tivo or has any plans to (I'm trying to picture Richard Stallman, secretly scheming to do Tivo out of their monthly fee, but unable to figure out how to mess with their hardware). They could care less about the specifics of this company's business plan, or that hypothetical consumer's fantasized reasons for wanting to make changes. They are in fact interested in what rights we have. Describing it as posturing isn't just deliberately missing the point so as to shift the debate, it's also deliberately insulting. Petreley, you're being a jerk.

You can opt-out of data collection

MegaZone's picture

A great article, thank you.

I just wanted to point out that users can opt-out of the data collection without modifying their TiVo. It is right in TiVo's Privacy Policy. If you don't want TiVo to collect anonymized information from your unit, you can call 1-877-367-8486 or send a request in writing.

Of course, you have to trust that they will honor the request, but I think all but the extremely paranoid would be willing to do so.

I also wanted to point out another reason TiVo locks down their platform. They need to do so to provide some of the features to their users. They offer some content via broadband downloads, and plan to offer much more going forward, but content providers will not partner with TiVo unless they provide a reasonably secure platform. Providers don't want to allow their content to be downloaded to a platform that is easily hacked to allow for content extraction, etc. TiVo protects the content on the system, and makes some efforts to raise the bar for hacking the boxes to circumvent the protection. Note that some of the more popular hacks for TiVo turn off encryption and enable open access to content on the box. With each generation TiVo has made it more difficult to accomplish such hacks, in order to continue to provide advanced services to their users.

That's just a business reality. If the platform were as open as MythTV, few content providers would be willing to provide downloads and such.

And now, with the Series3, TiVo has to abide by CableLabs' restrictions because they support CableCARD. CableLabs will not approve an open platform, they're quite restrictive on what they'll allow.

Very interesting post

Rufus Polson's picture

This gives me, in a way, rather more sympathy for Tivo in specific. However, if it was meant as a reassurance of sorts, that it certainly isn't.
What comes through in this post is an impression of content providers and hardware makers pushing for Tivo to go more closed than it is. It's an impression of DRM waiting to happen, of increased controls on content in the offing. Of attempts to make it harder for things like MythTV to exist.
This suggests to me that GPL v3 is very much needed, as is a broader movement against DRM and so on and so forth.

I also notice a fundamental asymmetry in assumptions about individuals, citizens if you wish, and corporations. Anyone else see it?
Probably, but I'll elaborate. The poster mentions
"Of course, you have to trust that they will honor the request, but I think all but the extremely paranoid would be willing to do so."

So only the "extremely paranoid" would fail to trust a corporation.

Meanwhile, "Providers don't want to allow their content to be downloaded to a platform that is easily hacked to allow for content extraction, etc."
So, it's apparently self-evident that corporations should be trusted. Actual people, hwoever, clearly should not be. Unless the point being made here is that content providers are "extremely paranoid".

I'm sympathetic to some extent with corporations' paranoia. Although in the case of this sort of thing, we have fair use rights so they can lump it. But why exactly should people trust corporations? Corporations are made up of people--and worse yet, of people who don't have to take individual responsibility for anything except costing the corporation money. Not a recipe for trustworthiness.

Content industry

Anonymous's picture

The content industry (as seen by CableLabs) is extremely paranoid. They are forcing the lockdown. No lockdown, no content. They also refuse to permit fair-use of their content. Somehow this has never made it to court.

The content industry considers its product to be extermely valuable and desired by everyone to the poin that paying customers would steal it if ever allowed the chance. Along with that is a desire to control what you can do with their content. They want to control whether and when you can record it to a PVR, make a backup copy or retain it in any fashion in your system. Content protection protects their content from YOU.

Some rules: the content must always be encrypted in any place it can be accessed. For now, that means its OK to be in the clear in ASICS. It must be encrypted going from ASIC to ASIC on the system board. It must be encrypted going from the cable provider to the set top box and from the settop box to the TV set. All software must be signed by a trusted authority and this must be checked every time the program starts to prevent hacked software from running. This include the HW checking the kernel before it boots. So the manufacturer must certify that the software is secure.

Tivo has rights too

Anonymous's picture

I agree with this article that TIVO has the right to stay in business.
They did comply with the GPL. Let's say for arguments sake that they let you modify your own code if you satified both of their needs;
Collect usage data and still pay for services. You would still have lot
of gripes.
I have had my TIVO for over 5 years and I no longer have a service fee.
They gave me a one time lifetime fee. I also have no warrenty left either. But I still respect TIVO's right and expectation that their update service should be used in a manner defined by them. If I wanted that to change I should have to renegotiate that with them.


Nobody has the right to stay

Rufus Polson's picture

Nobody has the right to stay in business.

Thanks a lot

Farnsworth's picture

For assuming that

a. customers have an obligation to support a vendor's business model, and
b. the primary motivation behind modifications is to scam services

There are all kinds of reasons why a person might want to modify their own property. The box belongs to the customer, not to Tivo, which you keep forgetting. The classic example is RMS wanting to fix his printer, and not being able to because of closed-source drivers. In the case of Tivo, protecting one's privacy is huge. Gamers overclock; the entire OpenWRT project is based on exploiting a Linksys firmware flaw. X Boxes are turned into routers, fileservers, and gosh-knows-what. DRM is all about reduced value, rather than added value. Businesses have forgotten that they need to win our business, not bully us into submission.

"Just because" is a perfectly good reason.

Protecting a business model is the worst of all reasons. Remember Microsoft pitching a hissy because they priced X Boxes below cost in Australia, and threatened the AU government if they didn't outlaw hardware mods for playing non-X box games? Hey, cry me a river- business models are not the customer's responsibility.

BTW, DRM is coming to CDs. Hello, Sony Rootkit? Your memory is short.


Nicholas Petreley's picture

a. Customers do have an obligation to support a vendor's business model if they agree to the terms of service. I have nothing against mod chips, by the way. And I have nothing against cracking the TiVo source to bypass the digital signature. But:

1. These things void the warranty and release the vendor from any obligation.

2. TiVo is under no obligation to provide you with the details you need to create a mod chip or circumvent the digital signature.

Having said that, if you want to break the terms of service by putting a mod chip in the product, then you're on your own, and that's fine with me. If someone comes out with a mod chip for TiVo, buy one, and go for it. Until then, if you don't want to agree to TiVo's terms of service, don't buy the product.

b. Bypassing TiVo's monthly fee is not scamming services. Getting TiVo's program data without paying for it would be scamming services. I didn't say people want to scam services, I said they don't want to pay TiVo the monthly fee.

"Just because" is a perfectly good reason, I agree. TiVo makes the source code freely available. So get in there and hack to your heart's content. But TiVo is under no obligation to modify its hardware to make it easy for you to undermine its business model. It's not your responsibility to support TiVo's business model, but it's not TiVo's responsibility to make it easy for you to undermine it.

I already said I hate DRM. If/when DRM comes to CDs, that will be a whole 'nother discussion.


G-man's picture

Why even bother with TiVo when you can easily build a MythTV box, and hack an XBOX to use as a front end? It's easy and there are millions of these nice pieces of hardware out there to do it with. Zap2it will give you program data for a quarterly survey. And frankly, I reject both TiVo and Microsoft's business models, because I'm a cheapskate hacker. Of course, many businesses will have you believe that there is something illegal because they don't want you to break their rules, but once they sell you the box, it's your box, so do with it what you want. Warranties only last a limited time, when they expire, they are worthless.

Let me know if you need any help with your MythTV project, Nick.

Why not Mythtv

Bret's picture

The reason I bought a used direcTivo was so I can record the original mpeg2 file distributed via satellite with the surround audio included. I could not figure out a way to capture this with myth tv without significant munging of the signal (DA and back again). I have not started the project yet but that is the goal anyway. I am paying Directv for dvr data now and hope to continue with the modified Tivo. I do not begrudge Tivo making money at whatever rate the market will bear. I do think that $13 US is a bit much but hey that is just me.

MythTV for the future

David's picture

"Why even bother with TiVo when you can easily build a MythTV box".

AIUI the real problem is that while this is true today, it may not be true in the future. I think the point RMS is trying to make is that in the future every CPU, motherboard or whatever could be DRM'ed and DCMA'ed to the hilt and it may not be possible to buy or build a computer capable of running Free Software. It's all very well being able to see and modify the source code, but it's no good if you have nothing to run it on!

RMS, I think, sees people like Tivo as the "thin end of the wedge".

Whether or not GPLv3 is the best way to tackle this is another matter of course.

Just my 2p.

Cheers, David

DRM is necessary to stop piracy

Anonymous's picture

Every manufacturer has the RIGHT to DRM their products. If you do not like that, then you should simply not buy their products.


Carlie J. Coats, Jr.'s picture

In these United States, the rights-issue finally comes down to the supreme law of the land, the Constitution. The Constitution is very explicit about protection of so-called intellectual property: it says, "...for a Limited Time, to Authors and Inventors...".

DRM is lawful only to the extent that there is a prior stated limit upon its term. When it does not do so, it is not lawful. When they have ignored this Constitutional restriction, the Congress, President and Supreme Court (in Eldred) have already broken the law.

Every manufacturer has the

Anonymous's picture

Every manufacturer has the RIGHT to DRM their products. If you do not like that, then you should simply not buy their products.

If every manufacturer exercises their 'right' to produce DRM products then we will not have any choice left but to buy DRM products then, will we? The pre-DRM freedoms that we have been enjoyed to date will be put back in the bottle by the organisations for which this sort of freedom represents a threat.

You don't get it.

David Kastrup's picture

Of course every manufacturer has the right to DRM their products. That is not the question. The question is whether it should have the right to DRM GPLed products from other people.

Also Tivo could perfectly well put the key/encryption stuff on their communication with the box. If Tivo refuses servicing modified boxes, that is certainly well within their rights.

Also, the GPL is not about demanding hardware info or programming guides. The responsibilities of the GPL amount to providing the source code which is based on GPLed software such that one can modify it if one wants it.

The GPL also does not demand that the hardware is suitable for modification: if stuff is stored in read-only memory, that is the problem of the customer to replace it.

But the one thing that the GPLv3 tries _not_ to permit is active sabotage of a perfectly working facility and restricting it artificially to a limited circle not including the customer.

Every manufacturer is free to produce such stuff on his own, if he wants to, but I find it unreasonable that he should expect to make use of free software in the course of doing that, software that was explicitly licensed with the intent to remain modifiable.

And DRM is coming also to general purpose computers. They are playing only media in the manner Microsoft allows. One business model is to have developers pay for "Microsoft Windows certified" stickers. This model will easily be replaced by one where the operating system does not even start software that has not had certification paid.

We already have such systems with game consoles.

Again: manufacturers are free to screw their customers to their liking, as much as they will swallow. But they don't need to expect that free software developers and the FSF will hand them software to do this.

If they want to screw the customer, they can do so themselves, without the help of free software developers.


Paul Hubert's picture

Doesn't this go back to: "If you don't LIKE it, don't BUY it."?

After all, you want the service, you know the terms. Are you willing to ACCEPT the terms to HAVE the service.

If not, give up on it or go start your own.

Or, do we just have too many GREEDY PEOPLE who want everything GIVEN to them????

Greed isn't the sole domain of corporations, folks.

This cuts both ways.

David Kastrup's picture

If you don't like the terms of GPLed software, don't use it.

Amen to that

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Subject says it all.

you guys sure have a low opinion of people

Farnsworth's picture

One more food for your thought: we do not have a competitive tech marketplace, and it's getting less competitive all the time, thanks to Microsoft, the MAFIAA, the DMCA, and all the strongarming and sweetheart deals that go on behind the scenes. So "just don't buy it" doesn't address the problem of what you can buy, because there isn't much, and it's decreasing all the time.

As I said in the previous blog, once the hardware is locked the software is useless, no matter how free it is. And that is why there is this tremendous push towards DRM, doing away with fair use, and criminalizing the modification of one's own property.

Useless software

Nicholas Petreley's picture

And as I said in the other thread, the software is useless in almost all appliances already. People don't complain about the inability to modify the software in their televisions because they can't even get at it. What irks people about TiVo is that they CAN get at it, but they can't make their modifications work with the hardware. Keep complaining. If people complain loud enough and long enough, TiVo will simply base its software on a proprietary operating system, charge a few more bucks to cover it, and the issue will be moot.

Since you dont get it, let

Anonymous's picture

"And as I said in the other thread, the software is useless in almost all appliances already."

Since you dont get it, let me explain it to you:
IF Tivo used NON-GPL-Software in the first place, they could choose to do whatever them pleases.
But now they take software written by someone else and put under a specific license:

IF Tivo chooses to rest on other peoples work, then they should be aware of what they place inside their hardware in the first place.

Lets say I designed a screw, Tivo comes around, takes the screw, modifies it slightly, places it in some black-box around it (decreasing the fully potential use with DRM) and then selling millions without allowing to let me test my own modification with the hardware i bought! This is what DRM wants: You dont own nothing even if you paid for and its even your programm inside!!!
Its the spirit of the GPL, extended to the environment:
If software is only "a small part" of the whole system, then you'd better think to build your own software before choosing anything that has strings attached.

Since you dont get it, let

Anonymous's picture

Since you dont get it, let me explain it to you:
IF Tivo used NON-GPL-Software in the first place, they could choose to do whatever them pleases.
But now they take software written by someone else and put under a specific license:

IF Tivo chooses to rest on other peoples work, then they should be aware of what they place inside their hardware in the first place.

Lets say I designed a screw, Tivo comes around, takes the screw, modifies it slightly, places it in some black-box around it (decreasing the fully potential use with DRM) and then selling millions without allowing to let me test my own modification with the hardware i bought! This is what DRM wants: You dont own nothing even if you paid for and its even your programm inside!!!
Its the spirit of the GPL, extended to the environment:
If software is only "a small part" of the whole system, then you'd better think to build your own software before choosing anything that has strings attached.

Tivo did not change the

Anonymous's picture

Tivo did not change the license. It is still under the GPL. What they have done is make the box to check to see if the software is the software it shipped with the box. This does not take away from any one as far as the software is concerned. It does not prevent you from seeing or modifing the code. It does try to prevent you from running your hacked version on that hardware. Does not mean that you can not hack the box to run it. But it does try to keep the box working the way they intended. Don't like it too bad go buy a general purpose computer not a box that was designed to do a specific thing. Its just like you screw thing they mod the screw and give the mod back to but design something for their specific mod and nothing else that is wrong? If you believe that is wrong you are a fool

Double-Edged Sword

CoderForChrist's picture

If people complain loud enough and long enough, TiVo will simply base its software on a proprietary operating system, charge a few more bucks to cover it, and the issue will be moot.

Sadly, this is why purists/idealists can be a double-edged sword. The FSF has done a lot of good, I believe, for FOSS, thanks to their idealism. However, your prediction here is the flip side of that coin: purists/idealists tend to be unbending on their pet issues, and, in the end, may, effectively, oppose the very thing they created, simply because they don't like how it's being used.

Of course, in my experience, the people who complain about Tivo are likely the same people who complain that NVIDIA doesn't release the source code for its Linux drivers. "We really want you to use/support FOSS, but only on our terms, and we don't care if you can stay in business doing it."

This is actually a very good

Anonymous's picture

This is actually a very good point. If Linux became as extreme as the FSF would like it to'll just end up being as popular as Hurd. Then most of us would be forced to use something else...because there'd be no drivers. For example, I *know* that the FSF *would love* to add some rules to Linux to prevent it from running proprietary drivers like from Nvidia or ATI. If that happend, I guess I would have to choose between Vista or OSX. So by the FSF pushing for *more* freeom, they would actually end up *promoting* proprietary systems. There is your double edged sword.

NVida comment ...

alisonken1's picture

... is slightly misleading.

TiVO makes it's money on services.

NVidia makes it's money on hardware. To NVidia, hiring programmers to write drivers is a cost that goes beyond making the hardware.

The reason NVidia keeps paying programmers to close-source the drivers is the percieved notion that allowing outsiders to see the driver code will allow other hardware manufacturers see the defects in the hardware that the software has to work around, OR allows competing hardware manufacturers (like ATI) to see which direction/enhancements you make to your cards and put the enhancements in their cards without having to pay for their own research (basically, the theory about competing company using your research funds without paying you for your research).

By open sourcing the driver code or publishing the API's, NVidia could then let the open source guys write the drivers for them without having to spend a lot more money for a better ROI (selling more hardware since not everyone runs MS - larger customer base that also happens to like improving drivers at a cheaper rate than [specify country here]).

That's the open source argument that people complain about.

"Open Source" is a socialist scam.

Anonymous's picture

I, for one, am glad to see that many people in the open source community are now starting to realize how terrible and communist-like the whole idea of open source and "free software" is. They claim to want to help each other, but they forget to mention the full reason: they want to help each other pirate media (music, videos, etc). There is simply no other reason for open source to exist except as a nice way for hackers and theives to steal content from the companies that work so hard to create it.

Corporations exist to make money, and DRM is a tool that they use to ensure that criminals do not steal their work. So if the open source community just wants everything to be free of DRM just to prevent corporations from making money, then they should move to Cuba and leave the rest of us alone. We won't miss you.

re: "Open Source" is a socialist scam

Anonymous's picture

I never thought of it that way. Wow. Very enlightening. I had never thought of Thomas Jefferson as a socialist.

"That ideas should be spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed in nature... Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property." - Thomas Jefferson 1813

I suppose that Bill Gates is a true "capitalist good guy" in your opinion.

"The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of it's own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose" -Bill Gates 1991

Mercantilist/Fascist scams...

Carlie Coats's picture

One of the most astute observers of the American experience was Alexis de Tocqueville. The most distinctive feature he found was the propensity of Americans to form free, volunteer organizations to meet the needs and desires of their communities (we see this, for example, in small-village and rural-community volunteer fire departments). The Internet has allowed us to export this distinctive Americanism -- in the form of Open Source software development -- to the entire world.

To claim that "Corporations exist to make money" and to equate this claim with Americanism is at best a throwback to the mercantilism of the seventeenth century or the fascism of the early Twentieth. And to accept term-unlimited DRM is to place those corporations above the Constitution, which demands limited-term protection of so-called IP.

I see no distinction between your attitude and that of Mussolini.

Wow. I mean, wow. Have you

Anon's picture

Wow. I mean, wow. Have you even given any thought to those statements? Really, I'd like to believe that your one of those "grassroots/viral" paid corporate cronies. That at least gives an intelligent motivation for that oppionion (in that it's a false one that your advocating simply because it feeds your family to do so. May I suggest finding another job as soon as you are able).

great arguments!

Farnsworth's picture

Good job, Mr. Petreley. You advocate that customers should not complain, but just suck it up and take it. Because- horrors- bad things will happen when customers tell businesses what they want!! OMG!! You assume that bad things happen to businesses who use a "too open" business model. You have a strangely negative view towards customers and free software. I don't agree with this. How do you know Tivo will go "meh, you loud people forced us to go to $proprietary system, haha so there take that"? That's a pretty big baseless assumption.

CoderForChrist, you trashed an entire vague category of people you don't agree without actually discussing the issues. Well done. Christ is proud of you. Yes, we want Nvidia to open its drivers. Why? Because we are "free/open source software" advocates. Duh! Where do you think Linux and FOSS came from? Not from some closed, proprietary source.

The simplest summary I can make is "open software is good, and open hardware is good. Vendors controlling customer's property is bad." But I think it's falling on deaf ears anyway.