Broadcast Flag Under Fire


Consumer groups are taking aim at the broadcast flag.

In comments to the Federal Communications Commission, the Consumer Federation of America today said that the proposed security system for digital video, which the FCC has approved, would not deter hackers or peer-to-peer sharing of protected content but would instead infringe on the fair use of TV content by people who had legally obtained it.

"This proposed mandate would serve no one but the Hollywood studios and broadcasters," said CFA Research Director Mark Cooper.

That filing followed one yesterday by "fair use" lobby Public Knowledge, which argued that the flag flies in the face of the 1984 Supreme Court ruling allowing home taping of TV shows for later viewing. "Had such controls been in effect when the the video cassette recorder was invented," Public Knowledge argues, "devices such as the VCR, TiVo and "media PC's" would have been drastically hindered on their way to market, if allowed at all."

Broadcasters and programmers argue that because it is possible to make millions of perfect digital copies easily, the flag is needed to protect their intellectual property. 

The flag is a code embedded in a digital broadcaster’s signal indicating whether or not the program may be distributed over the Internet or another outside network.

Part of the reason the FCC approved the flag was to help speed the digital transition. Content providers are reluctant to let their programs begin their digital rotations without some protection mechanism in place. That reluctance could send such programming to more secure platforms such as cable and satellite TV. "The losers would be the 40 million Americans who rely exclusively on free over-the-air TV," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said last December in endorsing the rule.