The FCC is going to be ruling shortly on a broadcast flag for digital television. If you like to watch, record and enjoy 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.
Here are a few reasons why the broadcast flag is a bad idea:
- It won’t work. The broadcast flag won’t stop illegal copying. Devices will still have analog outputs, and these outputs can still be used to copy shows to computers or to the internet.
- It isn’t necessary. The movie industry claims that digital television won’t take off without their movies, and that they won’t offer their movies without a broadcast flag. But both claims are false: many stations are already broadcasting HDTV, and those stations are showing movies without a broadcast flag. There is no evidence of widespread copying of existing HDTV programming. (The vast majority of movies and TV copied on the internet are obtained from analog broadcasts.)
- It will outlaw behaviors that are currently legal. Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, has admitted that the broadcast flag could prevent users from copying shows between TVs in their own homes. Recording a TV show to take to a friend’s house would also be prohibited.
- It will bring innovation to a halt. 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 — unforeseen but legal uses that will benefit consumers.
- It will keep users passive. In the analog world, users can’t do much except watch a TV show when the broadcasters decide to air it. Digital technology has the potential to give people much more flexibility. For example, you 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 a 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 a friend’s apartment. But the media companies want to use the broadcast flag to give us even less flexibility in the digital world than we had in the analog world.
- It will give Hollywood veto power over consumer electronics. In order to build a device that interoperates with digital television content, the device will have to use an approved technology in an approved way. If the device isn’t approved by the movie industry, it can’t be sold or distributed. Given that the movie industry has already sued companies such as ReplayTV, we can assume that they won’t grant their permission to future innovative products.
- It will require users to upgrade all of their equipment. In order for the broadcast flag to be effective, digital TV cannot interoperate with existing devices that don’t understand the flag. In order to enjoy the benefits of digital television, consumers will have to replace all of their equipment with new models that obey the flag.
- It will allow massive invasions of privacy. Certain copy-protection technologies used with the broadcast flag can log every usage of a given television show or movie. Circumvention of such technologies would be illegal.
- It will prohibit open-source development. In order to build a device that interoperates with digital television content, the device will have to be “untamperable”. This rules out free, open-source applications for processing digital media content.
For more information, see these links:
- Letter to the FCC from the Consumers Union
- Senator John McCain’s Letter to the FCC
- Harry Potter and the Prisoners of the DTV Transition
- Understanding the Broadcast Flag
- Online Piracy Frightens Movie Moguls
- Copy Protection Is A Crime
- The Broadcast Flag and the DTV Transition
- Comments from the Electronic Privacy Information Center