Movement expected on broadcast flag to protect digital video from privacy

Action on rules governing the inclusion of measures to protect digital television program distributors from unauthorized retransmission of their content over the Internet and elsewhere are expected to be announced soon by the FCC.

The so-called broadcast flag is a security measure intended to prevent the loss of control over content in the video arena similar to what has happened to the music industry as a result of file sharing. Already, many unauthorized copies of television programs and movies are shared among Internet file swappers.

The broadcast flag, which is digital code inserted into a program, would prevent retransmission of video content over the Internet but allow consumers to watch flagged programming on multiple players, as long as they have the ability to recognize the protection code.

Critics of the flag argue that the inclusion of a broadcast flag will require consumers to buy new playback devices, such as DVD players, equipped with the decoder to watch flagged shows and make existing DVD players essentially obsolete.

Speaking at a recent press conference, FCC Chairman Michael Powell pledged to “tackle” the broadcast flag issue and be finished with it by the end of the October. So far, the commission has issued no broadcast flag rules.

Some media reports indicate that the commission intends to oversee the review of the technologies to be considered for the broadcast flag to make sure the process is fair.

In a letter to Powell from the NAB dated Oct. 27, association president Edward Fritts voiced support for FCC adoption of broadcast flag technology for digital television transmissions.

“The broadcast flag is necessary to prevent widespread unauthorized redistribution of digital broadcast content over the Internet. Without it, high quality programming will migrate off of free television,” he said in the letter.

According to the letter, the association would oppose any exemption from the broadcast flag for locally originated news or public affairs television programming. “Their copyright interest in those programs is the same as the interest that program producers have in any other type of program, and local stations should similarly be protected against unauthorized redistribution of their intellectual property,” he said in the letter.

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