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Stevens seeks to hoist broadcast flag

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who oversees broadcast industry issues in the Senate, said the broadcast flag is necessary in order to prevent piracy of TV shows over the Internet.

Stevens, taking a hard line in support of the Hollywood content industry, vowed to promote legislation that would impose the flag technology upon makers of digital television devices even if negotiations with public interest groups fail.

The National Journal reported that draft legislation was recently released by Senator Gordon Smith, (R-OR), that would grant the FCC authority to impose the broadcast flag requirement upon all manufacturers of digital tuners.

Stevens, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, said the subject requires an act of Congress.

The FCC approved the broadcast flag rule in November 2003, ordering a halt to the manufacture of non-compliant TV tuners. However, a federal appeals court that found the commission did not have the authority to order the copy protection system overturned the decision. The entertainment industry then turned to Congress for help.

Stevens contended that his committee could “enact a bill that would eliminate some of the problems the FCC tried to work out” with regard to the right of consumers to copy television programs for personal use.

However, public interest groups continue to oppose the flag as an infringement of consumers’ right to make fair use of copyrighted material.

Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) said he is strongly opposed to the federal government mandating either the broadcast flag for over-the-air TV or the audio flag for radio.

As new technologies such as TV, videotape and CDs appeared, Sununu noted, “we didn’t need to step in with a significant statutory government-regulated mandate.” Instead of passing legislation, he added, Congress “ought to be at least a little bit more skeptical than we are now” of claims of economic ruin from the entertainment industry.

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