TV recordists prepare to pull down broadcast flag

Most television viewers have no idea that new copy controls will soon allow programmers to determine what they can and cannot record on their home VCRs. Under the guise of protecting digital content from piracy, the FCC adopted a rule that digital television tuners must recognize copy controls, known as the broadcast flag (PDF), encoded in content streams.

Future digital video recording devices will detect the broadcast flag, and the flag will prevent users from making multiple high-quality copies of the programs. As of July 1, 2005, it will be illegal to manufacture or import devices that can receive digital programming without responding to the broadcast flag.

To fight the impending rule and to stoke backlash from TV viewers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has launched the Digital Television Liberation Project to guide viewers on how to make their own personal video recorders from off-the-shelf parts. The digital-rights group is encouraging people to buy digital TVs, or DTVs, tuner cards for their PCs, and is distributing instructions on how to build TiVo-like digital video recorders.

The idea, reports Wired News, is to get viewers hooked on the charms of time-shifting— recording a program and then watching it at a later time — and to help them understand what they will be missing once the broadcast flag rule goes into effect.

The broadcast flag will prevent a lot of actions that aren’t violations of copyright law. For instance, copying a clip from FOX News might not be possible with the broadcast flag —even though it’s legal. Or time-shifting might become cumbersome with the broadcast flag restrictions, even though it’s also perfectly legal.

To build a DTV PVR, users need a tuner card capable of reading the DTV signal, Wired News reported. Once installed, the tuner card can record programs to the hard drive of a PC. Users would then hook their PC to a television or a high-definition monitor for viewing. The PCs also could burn the programming to a DVD and perform TiVo tricks like pausing, replaying and fast-forwarding.

The EFF uses a software platform called MythTV, written for the Linux operating system, to manage content on its demo machine, but other projects like Freevo and eBox are also available.

The broadcast flag only applies to over-the-air broadcasts. Cable and satellite companies already have their own digital-rights management in place.

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