Help Stop the Broadcast Flag

The FCC is going to be ruling shortly on a “broadcast flag” for digital television. If you enjoy watching and recording television, this decision will have a large impact on you.

Hollywood is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to forcibly implant copy-protection technology in digital television receivers. The FCC is weighing a plan to mandate this “broadcast flag”. This flag will govern what you are allowed to do with the digital television you receive.

A leading industry analyst, Declan McCullagh, had the following to say about the Broadcast flag proposal: “This is a worrisome plan that, if adopted by the FCC, could lead to increased government regulation of technology and reduced fair use rights. The idea is that digital TV transmissions will include a ‘broadcast flag’ designating shows that may not be copied freely.”

The broadcast flag will likely take away many of the fair-use rights you’ve historically had in the name of preventing piracy. But unfortunately, piracy will not be stopped by the broadcast flag. With file-sharing networks, a TV program has only to be cracked once and it will propagate freely across the Internet. You are being asked to sacrifice your rights for a technology that will not stop theft.

Technology is enabling the customer to be more than a passive consumer. Technology allows people to modify, create and participate in the media they purchase. For example, one can record a television program and watch it later; clip a small piece of TV and splice it into a home movie; send an email clip of one’s child’s football game to a distant relative; create multimedia homework assignments which contain short TV clips; or record a TV program onto a DVD and play it at my friend’s apartment. The broadcast flag appears designed to remove the growing control and flexibility that consumers enjoy.

Historically, the law has allowed for those not affiliated with creating content to come up with new, unanticipated ways of using it. For example, Sony invented the modern VCR — a movie studio did not. (Sony did not own a movie studio at the time.) Diamond Multimedia invented the MP3 player — a recording label did not. Unfortunately, the broadcast flag has the potential to put an end to that dynamic. Because the broadcast flag defines what uses are authorized and which are not, unanticipated uses of content which are not foreseeable today are by default unauthorized. If we allow the content industry to “lock in” the definition of what is and is not legitimate use, we curtail the ability for future innovation – unanticipated but legal uses that will benefit consumers.

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