Washington Watch


File-Sharers Hail Rights “Magna Carta”

Consumer activists and makers of digital recorders warned the Supreme Court that TV programmers and Hollywood are using the switch to digital technology as an excuse to trample longstanding home-recording rights.

In briefs to the high court, Intel, the Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge and others urged the justices to uphold a lower-court ruling absolving file-sharing networks like Grokster of liability when individuals use their technology to illegally swap copyrighted movies and TV shows.

Shutting down Grokster and its siblings would wrongly eliminate legitimate file-sharing, they say. CEA President Gary Shapiro complained that Hollywood is seeking to destroy the 20-year-old ruling that permitted Sony and Betamax to keep producing video recorders over the movie industry's objections. Shapiro calls the ruling “the Magna Carta” of home recording and credited it for the consumer-electronics revolution that led to today's iPods and TiVos. The Supreme Court will hear the Motion Picture Association of America's appeal March 29.

Microsoft Helps Cable Lobbying

Microsoft has given cable operators a big helping hand in their fight to postpone a looming government restriction that would hamper their deployment of low-cost set-top boxes for digital TV.

Microsoft has told the FCC it supports the cable industry's request to delay, until at least 2007,// a deadline for eliminating cable operator-provided set-tops that combine descrambling functions with channel-surfing and other interactive features. Microsoft, which wants to supply interactive software for cable boxes, argues that cable is moving towards developing retail products of its own.

The ban is scheduled to go into effect July 2006, but after lobbying by cable, the FCC is leaning towards at least postponing the deadline. The deadline was originally imposed to encourage a retail market for interactive digital boxes. Persuaded by electronics retailers like Best Buy and their suppliers, the FCC judged that a retail market would be hindered if cable operators continued to supply all-in-one boxes, leaving customers less incentive to seek a retail version.

FCC Spares 'Private Ryan'

ABC stations that aired the uncut version of World War II movie Saving Private Ryan won't be punished by the FCC.

The network's Veterans Day broadcast stirred up a hubbub when scores of affiliates questioned whether the movie's profanity and violence would lead to FCC fines. No matter that the FCC had dismissed complaints about it in 2001 and 2002, GMs of 66 stations decided they'd rather be safe than sorry, given the ongoing crackdown on indecency, and refused to run the movie. The affiliates' boycott sparked headlines across the country. But the five FCC commissioners unanimously ruled the profanity and violence of the movie integral to “conveying the horrors of war.”

'Buster' Ban: No Second Thoughts

PBS President Pat Mitchell said she has no regrets over nixing an episode of Postcards from Buster that featured the cartoon bunny's visit to a family headed, presumably, by a lesbian couple.

“I wouldn't inject PBS stations into a culture war they did not start and cannot stop,” she said at the American Women in Radio and Television's annual meeting.

PBS in early February decided not to provide the episode, “Sugar Time,” after Mitchell and the series' main funder, the Department of Education, balked over a “two-mommy” family featured in Buster's visit to Vermont.

WGBH Boston, which produced the show, aired the episode Feb. 2, as did a handful of other stations that obtained the episode directly from WGBH.