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11.10.2003
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
FCC dissenters wary, but vote “yes”

The broadcast flag initiative was supported without reservation by FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his two Republican colleagues on the commission. However, the two Democratic commissioners—who gave thumbs up to the mandate—issued partial dissents outlining their trouble with the ruling.

In their partial dissents, Democratic commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, noted that the mandate could make it impossible for Internet users to share digital video clips of news events and other programming that should be in the public domain.

“By subjecting, say, the State of the Union address to mandated redistribution control technologies, have we not undermined a core value of our society?” Adelstein asked. “I search in vain...for a reason to lock up political speech from widespread distribution.”

Copps noted that broadcasters are given the right to use the public’s airwaves in return for serving their communities. “The widest possible dissemination of news and information serves the best interests of the community,” he said. “We should therefore be promoting the widest possible dissemination of news and information consistent, of course, with the copyright laws. And neither the FCC nor the broadcast flag should interfere with the free flow of non-copyrightable material.”

Adelstein said he feared that consumers, reporters, libraries, educators, the disabilities community, or other entities who today use copyrighted material in numerous lawful ways without the prior permission of the copyright owner, will be subjected to a system of pre-approval or payment for the continued exercise of those legally protected uses.

Copps and Adelstein said the FCC did not consider the impact of the flag on personal privacy and whether the flag scheme would enable the entertainment industry to track how and when its content is viewed.

“Improper use of the technologies could arguably allow such things as tracking personal information. The broadcast flag should be about protecting digital content, not about tracking Americans’ viewing habits,” he said. “We should state explicitly that we would consider this issue in the approval process and what action we would take if some approved technologies collect information about users and their viewing habits. “

Copps said the FCC’s action was “not ideal.”

No one will walk away with everything on their wish list,” he said. “What we have instead is an honest attempt at a workable compromise that responds to the concerns raised by multiple commenters.”

For more information visit www.fcc.gov.

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