Jim Halpert, Whistleblower?

There was something a bit... foreboding about Jim Halpert's snarky attitude during "The Office"'s closing promo.  "Watch full episodes of 'The Office' on  Just -- not on your lunch break, because that is against office policy, my friend."  "Office" fans have come to know that Jim is a master of wordless communication, but this time, I felt like he was trying to actually tell us something.

Ironically, just two weeks earlier, I had watched an episode of "The Office" on Hulu, and also found that I could purchase the same episode on  Both services were quick, and painless. 

I wondered, "Would NBC, a Hulu partner, make it equally as easy to watch "The Office" from the NBC site?"

So I embarked on a little journey of discovery, thanks to Jim, and the answer to the question is a resounding "NO," particularly if you're interested in a high quality version of their programs.



In fact, what I've discovered is that in order to watch ANY NBC program in "high definition," users are currently required to download an incredibly intrusive program called "The NBC Direct Service."  The Service, as it affectionately refers to itself within its Orwellian License Agreement, is in actuality an invitation to place your computer, its processors and hard drives, and even your Internet connection, within a dreaded peer to peer (P2P) zombie network.

Apparently, Big Tuna wasn't kidding about the office policy comment.  Few if any workplaces would be thrilled about an employee agreeing to the invasive agreement that the Service imposes on its minions.  Of course, few of you would know that, since you can't even print the licensing agreement before agreeing to it, and the "copy" feature of Explorer has been disabled on the site.

I managed to use the "Control C" function while highlighting the License Agreement, and pasted it into a Word document, to begin the autopsy.  (Email me if you'd like a copy). 

I found some pretty unsettling terms that I think our TV Board readers would be interested in knowing about.

First, a personal preamble to the Service goon squad -- I did NOT download the Service, nor did I accept your creepy license agreement.  Therefore, I'm not governed by paragraph 1 (c) IV, which essentially states that I would not be authorized to disclose or divulge the Service to any third party.   For the record, I will continue to exercise my First Amendment rights, by divulging and disclosing the Service to my heart's content, and I hope every third party out there continues divulging and disclosing The Service until it perishes.  Quickly.

That aside, here are the lowlights of The Service Agreement (cue the haunted organ music):

The Service manages and delivers video, music, audiovisual and other content ("Content") to you.  (What "other content" are they talking about?)

BY ACCEPTING THIS LICENSE, YOU AGREE TO ALLOW FILES CONTAINING CONTENT TO BE DELETED FROM YOUR HARD DRIVE BY THE SERVICE (Note: the "caps" are courtesy of the Service's attorneys --  they REALLY want you to be pre-warned about this one!  In fact, they repeat it again later in the Agreement, again all in caps, AND throw in a bonus at the end: YOU SPECIFICALLY AGREE THAT THE SOFTWARE MAY DELETE FILES AND CONTENT FROM YOUR HARD DRIVE(S) AND OTHER COMPUTER MEDIA. 

Care to tell us what "OTHER COMPUTER MEDIA" you intend to delete, Mr. Service Eraser Guy?

Here's the zombie disclosure:  Content files on your computer may be accessed and used for delivery to other computers with access to the Service.   In order to use the Services, you hereby grant permission for the Software to utilize the processor and bandwidth of your computer for the limited purposes of (i) facilitating the transfer of digital files and communication between the users of the Software and the Services and.... So far, pretty boilerplate for P2P agreements. 

But then, they give the Service access for:  (ii) facilitating the transfer of digital files to servers for purposes of posting content on websites or blogs and (iii) pasting links to content in instant messages and RSS feeds...

What!!???  Would anybody at NBC Universal like to explain why on earth the Service needs to use my computer and bandwidth to post content on websites or blogs -- and to post links to content in instant messages and RSS feeds?

There's more:  NBCU or the owners of DRM Technology may also download revocation lists onto your computer.  No, thanks -- I don't really care to allow you to use my PC as a clearinghouse for revocation lists.

The Service automatically communicates with NBCU servers, along with the other approved vendor servers used to operate the Service.  (Care to mention any names?)

You consent to periodic updates of the Service client application stored on your computer without further notice to you. (Any reason why you can't tell users you've updated applications on their computers?  Ever heard of email?)

NBCU may communicate with you via email (well, I guess you have!) regarding Content you have selected or new available Content, or upgrades or other news about the Software.    It is a condition of accessing NBC Direct that you agree to receive these emails.  (Question:  Does having your email being automatically placed into my spam folder count as being "received?")

After you install and use the Service, the Service may automatically collect information about your use ("User Information"), including without limitation (a) titles and other identifying information concerning the Content you download and/or access, (b) the dates and times you download, access and/or acquire licenses to access such Content and (c) the frequency and duration of your access to such Content, including copies of Content downloaded to your computer.  (Note:  By adding the phrase "without limitation," everything listed after it is irrelevant.  The Service can collect ANY information from my computer).

Now, some of you might be thinking, "Certainly they have no intention of collecting personally identifiable information!"

Read on:

NBCU may also collect personally identifiable information from you, such as name, email address, IP address, or geographic location which may be required to obtain certain Content or to make certain uses of the Service.

So now maybe you're thinking, "Well, they're good guys over there at NBC Universal.  They probably would want this information only so that the Service can serve us better -- right?  It is a "Service," after all, and NBC is in the service business.  It's not like they would share this information with anybody else, right?"

To wit:

NBCU may provide User Information to another Content Provider whose Content you have downloaded or accessed and to vendors or business affiliates of NBCU.  (Gee, based on the size of NBCU, it might just be easier for them to list parties they are NOT allowed to provide with my personally identifiable information!)

So, what happens if something goes horribly wrong?


And, finally, in case you're worried about your P2P connection, hardware damage, or viruses, thanks to the men in suits over at the Service, this should put your mind at ease: NBCU SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES TO, OR VIRUSES THAT MAY INFECT, YOUR COMPUTER EQUIPMENT OR OTHER PROPERTY ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR ACCESS TO OR USE OF THE SERVICE OR CONTENT.

What does all this mean?  I'll get to that shortly, but you'll have to excuse me a moment, as I just heard a knock at my door. 

That's strange, we weren't expecting anyone at this odd hour...

7 comments about "Jim Halpert, Whistleblower? ".
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  1. Chris Ward from Catalyst Public Relations, March 19, 2009 at 11:28 a.m.

    Facinating read. I'm a fan of your writing and this is particularly interesting. What does one do to remove said "Service" from his or her computer?

    Is the licensing agreement indefinite?

  2. Lynn Russo whylly from Media Post Comm, March 19, 2009 at 11:42 a.m.

    Well I will certainly be reading verbatim any license agreements I sign in the future! I think you should send this one to the attorney general...there have got to be some violations of people's rights in there, this issue is much bigger than the inner circle of a trade publisher...the entire world needs to know!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 19, 2009 at 12:03 p.m.

    THANK YOU in capital letters. Who bothers to read this stuff? I have yet to sign up for this service and it still will be a yet until this changes. THANK YOU. Please inform as many people as possible, too.

  4. Frank Maggio from Maggio Media, LLC, March 19, 2009 at 12:03 p.m.

    Thanks for the comments and question, CW.

    While not a lawyer, my cursory review of the license reveals that it either “expires” or is “completed.” You can discontinue the service, but it does not seem apparent how to legally terminate the agreement on your end. For example:

    While the agreement explains the actual time that the agreement commences, the only thing it says about when it ends is that it is terminated by your failure to comply, or when they decide to stop supporting it (boy, that’s a classic, isn’t it!): This Agreement shall automatically terminate upon failure to comply with any term hereof. No notice shall be required to effect the termination. NBCU may terminate this Agreement and the license to you for this Service, at any time without notice to you for any breach of the terms and conditions of this Agreement by you or due to NBCU's decision in its sole discretion to discontinue the dissemination and support of the Service. Termination of this Agreement shall not affect your obligation to comply with the restrictions on use in Section (c), below. The restrictions on use shall survive the termination of this Agreement.

    If you wish to withdraw from or discontinue the Service (note that it does not say ‘terminate’ or ‘cancel’), here is what they say:

    If you would like to discontinue use of the Service, please visit for assistance in removing the Service and associated Content.”

    When you click the link, and scroll down, it does not discuss the legal ability of terminating the license, only how to uninstall the player:
    Q. How do I uninstall the Player?
    A: To uninstall the Player, follow these steps:
    • Click on the Start button
    • Open Settings > Control Panel
    • Launch Add or Remove programs
    • Select "NBC Direct Beta" and click "Remove"
    • Select "OpenCASE Media Agent" and click "Remove"

    Note that apparently there is no “uninstall” wizard with the Service, and there are actually 2 programs to remove, not just one…

  5. David Peterson harvey from The Hidden Art, March 19, 2009 at 4:49 p.m.

    Haha ... though not as Orwellian as you make it sound, I'm glad people are starting to question boilerplate license agreements like this. I wonder why you pick on NBC, when I've seen this type of agreement with a lot of the same stuff from other companies.

    To whit:

    Just about everything you mentioned is designed to protect the company IF their software and content screws up your system AND to give rights to them and third parties (who aren't named because they can change over time) that act as contractors for them in providing these services.

    If there's not a specified way to end the contract, it may not be valid. Then again, does a boilerplate contract represent an adhesion contract, which can be invalidated by the courts? I'd love to see some of these challenged because the ramifications are ENORMOUS to the legal and online community.

    It's great that you're bringing these things up. The people who have mentioned that they will start looking at these agreements should have been doing that all along. Then again, if they didn't read it, a contract may not actually exist because they don't know what they are agreeing to in the first place.

    If you go to your mechanic, read the paper before you sign it, especially the fine print and anything on the back. In any agreement, if you don't agree, simply cross out what you don't agree with and initial it. It's legal to do and lawyers do it all the time. Anything you write into a contract by hand is considered over and above what's in print or typed.

    People SHOULD start speaking up about these things. People SHOULD read these things before agreeing.

    If you don't have a chance to negotiate a contract, by law a legally binding contract may not exist.

    I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I am a media producer and businessperson who deals with these types of contractual issues all the time. Don't freak out, but be careful of ANYTHING you sign or click in agreement.

    Best regards,
    David Peterson Harvey
    Managing Director

  6. Frank Maggio from Maggio Media, LLC, March 20, 2009 at 12:11 p.m.


    Side note, I'm not picking on NBC. Quite frankly, I'm a fan of their content. It's just that in my personal review of the big 4, and how they deliver content online, only NBC appears to have resorted to P2P to deliver "HD" quality. I do not believe that P2P is an appropriate distribution model, particularly not when it comes with the terms of this type of licensing agreement.

    Very interested if NBC would weigh in.

  7. Carl LaFong, March 27, 2009 at 11:47 a.m.

    Nice going, Wayne. Screw these NBCU bastards.

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