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Once again, lobbyists try to raise “broadcast flag”

Lobbyists for movie and recording industries are pushing Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, (R-Alaska), to give the FCC authority to mandate copy protection technology for movies and music. The provision is being sought in the pending DTV legislation now on the fast track for mid-October completion.

Public Knowledge, a public advocacy group focusing on digital copyright issues, circulated draft language that it said the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are floating on Capitol Hill.

The movie studios want the FCC to have regulatory authority over television equipment in order to prevent the mass, online redistribution of high-definition entertainment, the National Journal reported. The RIAA and other artist and music groups are worried that consumers will be able to use software to record and create libraries of high-quality music via digital radio. Some artists worry the practice could undermine revenue they could earn through digital downloads.

Mitch Glazier, senior vice president for the RIAA, told the Journal that they and the MPAA are working to protect video and audio content, but it may not be this specific language. He said his group has not yet presented the final language to Stevens.

The language circulated by Public Knowledge would authorize the FCC to regulate both digital audio broadcasts and receiving devices. It responds to a court decision earlier in the year.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in May overturned FCC rules mandating that all digital TV sets contain technology to prevent the piracy of “flagged” content. The court said the FCC had exceeded its regulatory jurisdiction because Congress never authorized it to mandate copy protection schemes for TV manufacturers.

Glazier said RIAA wants Congress to specifically give the agency such authority over copy protection standards for fear of future lawsuits. “The language of the D.C. circuit opinion is so broad and paints with such a broad brush that we would feel better with a specific grant of jurisdiction,” he said. “Otherwise we could have another lawsuit from Public Knowledge, and that would be another two years.”

Glazier said RIAA is “reaching out” to the technology industry “to make sure that the language is narrow enough and doesn’t raise any concerns.” But both Public Knowledge and the Consumer Electronic Association (CEA) blasted the proposal.

Michael Petricone, CEA’s vice president of technology policy, told the Journal The phrase “unauthorized copying and redistribution of digital audio content” would even ban making copies for personal use and shifting content between devices inside the home, long-established consumer rights that are protected by fair use standards for copyrighted content.

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