Broadcast flag to protect digital content from unauthorized Internet distribution

The FCC adopted a rule Nov. 4 allowing the inclusion of the anti-piracy protection scheme known as a broadcast flag for digital television.

The Commission’s report and order adopts the ATSC flag for redistribution control and establishes rules for compliance and robustness of devices with digital television demodulators.

The Commission declined to adopt similar rules for devices with modulators because “the record in this proceeding does not reflect a need for regulation in this sphere to protect the viability of over-the-air television.”

The Commission also deferred making a decision on “a permanent approval mechanism” covering content protection and recording technologies used with device outputs.

The goal of the action is to prevent the redistribution of digital television content via the Internet. According to the Commission, the rule will not make existing consumer electronics, such as VCRs, CDs and DVD recorders, obsolete.

The Report and Order targets products with built-in over-the-air DTV receivers. Those products must comply with the new rules by July 1, 2005. Broadcasters may choose to use the flag at their own discretion.

In making its anti-piracy rules, the FCC said that the lack of content protection could be a “key impediment” to the transition to digital television. Without content protection, “high value” programming might migrate to satellite or cable services where there is greater security. That in turn, could “harm the viability of over-the-air television” and slowdown DTV adoption.

The FCC established an interim policy to govern the inclusion of broadcast flag technology in TV receivers and related devices. The policy allows proponents of a certain broadcast flag technology to have the technology certified subject to public notice and objection.

In a statement released on the Commission’s Web site, Chairman Michael Powell said the public will benefit from the broadcast flag.

“First, the broadcast flag decision is an important step toward preserving the viability of free over-the-air television,” he said in the statement. “Because broadcast TV is transmitted ‘in the clear,’ it is more susceptible than encrypted cable or satellite programming to being captured and retransmitted via the Internet. The widespread redistribution of broadcast TV content on the Internet would unnecessarily drive high value programming to more secure delivery platforms. The losers would be the 40 million Americans who rely exclusively on free over-the-air TV."

“Second, our broadcast flag decision will promote innovation in content protection technologies,” Powell said.

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Editor's note: A complete review of the FCC's actions, the industry's response, and the possible effects on broadcasting, will be continued in the December issue of Broadcast Engineering.

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