Broadcast programming deserves as much protection from copyright theft as cable programming, several key lawmakers urged FCC Chairman Michael Powell on Friday.
The concern is that if consumer electronics manufacturers do not include technology in new TVs and set-top boxes that would keep copies of free TV broadcasts off the Internet, studios will not license their content to TV networks, wrote Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), John Breaux (D-La.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.). If studios start backing off on licensing original content to TV networks, both the transition to digital and free over-the-air television in general may suffer, they said. "It is clear that the Internet poses many new challenges with respect to rights of content owners, program distributors, and consumers," they wrote. "We believe these that these challenges should be met in a way that ensures that all programmers are treated equally, regardless of the distribution medium utilized, and similarly, that existing consumer rights are protected and balanced irrespective of the medium. To do otherwise would be to provoke understandable consumer confusion and anger."
The letter results from an agreement struck last November between Sony and Time Warner and consumer electronics manufacturers that would allow cable programming to be encrypted so that it cannot be copied and carried over the Internet, but would not grant the same privilege to over-the-air broadcasts. Consumer electronics manufacturers argue that consumers should have the right to copy TV programs for their own use, but studios say in the digital world it is too easy for one perfect digital copy to turn into millions. This sticking point - whether over-the-air broadcast should get the same level of copy protection as other pay programming -has held up implementation of a digital copyright protection standard for five years. - Paige Albiniak