Consumer, technology groups attack broadcast flag proposal

In public comments filed with the FCC, the pending proposal to insert a “broadcast flag” into digital television programs for copy protection came under severe attack.

The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the nation's largest consumer advocacy group, told the FCC that the flag proposal is more likely to slow the broadcast digital transition than speed it up and will leave digital media less innovative than it otherwise could be.

The CFA charged that the broadcast networks and the Hollywood studios have failed to demonstrate that Internet transmission of high quality broadcast content is a problem today or to make a credible case that it will be.

The broadcast flag, said the CFA, won’t stop unauthorized copying by commercial hackers and large-scale peer-to-peer sharing operations. And the flag will affect almost none of the actual distribution of digital content since almost 90 percent of American households receive their TV signal from cable or satellite, not a broadcast signal.

“To say that the broadcast flag is a non-solution to a non-problem is an understatement,” said Mark Cooper, the CFA’s director of research. “While there is little benefit associated with the broadcast flag, there may be a great deal of cost.”

Also filing comments was the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who shared similar views with the CFA.

“Despite what Hollywood will tell you, this has nothing to do with Internet piracy,” said EFF Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann. “Instead, the broadcast flag is Hollywood's effort to control the future of TV technologies. If they get this technology mandate, Hollywood will be in a position to force innovators to negotiate before building new digital television products. Remember, these are the same companies that, in 1976, sued to impound the VCR and, today, will tell you that skipping commercials is stealing.”

“The ‘threat' of DTV piracy is both nonexistent and implausible,“ said Cory Doctorow, the EFF’s outreach coordinator. “The ‘solution’ proposed by Hollywood would only slow down the DTV transition by raising the cost of digital television devices while reducing their value.”

A coalition of software and computer companies also opposed the flag in an FCC filing. The coalition is comprised of the Business Software Alliance and the Computer Systems Policy Project. The IT group noted that flag supporters wouldn’t guarantee the well-established right to unfettered home recording.

Flag supporters countered in a filing sponsored by the (NAB), the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and others that high-value content such as sports and new movies will "migrate away" from free over-the-air broadcasting if programming is easy to copy and transmit over the Internet or other forms of file sharing.

The broadcast flag, aimed at limiting unauthorized distribution of content, was developed with funding from major broadcast networks, the MPAA, the NAB, station groups and artists and actors unions.

As proposed, the broadcast flag would be embedded in spectrum accompanying video programming and would tell digital recording and storage devices how many times, if any, a user may copy a program for use outside personal video equipment.

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