November 3, 2005 5:13 PM PST

Congress divided on broadcast flag plan

WASHINGTON--A plan in Congress to revive the "broadcast flag," a controversial form of copy-prevention technology for digital TV broadcasts, drew a mixed response from politicians on Thursday.

At a hearing convened by a U.S. House of Representatives panel, some committee members appeared to endorse the broadcast flag proposal, while others said it was premature.

"I'm not quite sold on the idea yet," said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and one of Congress' more prominent supporters of "fair use" rights.

Boucher said he understood the "logic" behind the flag but feared the current proposals would be unduly restrictive. He said he saw no reason why news and public affairs programs, for instance, needed to be "flagged."

But Rep. Howard Berman, a high-ranking California Democrat, said he was concerned over "the fact that mass indiscriminate distribution of unauthorized copies is still possible" and said Congress must prevent "abusive use of technology."

No legislation has been introduced yet, but draft proposals have been circulating this week.

Earlier this year, a federal court threw out Federal Communications Commission regulations mandating the so-called flag, a device intended to prevent television viewers from freely copying digital broadcasts and reusing them. The entertainment industry has argued that without adequate safeguards, the increasing shift to digital television broadcasts will leak copyright content to the Net and create new avenues for piracy.

One of the proposals asks Congress to authorize the FCC to reinstate the video broadcast flag, while the second proposes a new broadcast flag for digital radio. The third calls for plugging a so-called "analog hole"--that is, outlawing consumer devices designed to convert copy-protected digital material to analog format, strip the copy protections, and then shift it back to digital format.

"We want a free marketplace, not a black marketplace," said Dan Glickman, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, which, along with the recording industry, has been lobbying for the broadcast flag requirement.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said that "we should do what we can to support content owners from being ripped off." But she said that protection should not come at the expense of limiting the rights of consumers or impeding the growth of new technology.

By the end of the hearing, members of the panel appeared to be divided on what course they will take.

Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, suggested it was the FCC's "core responsibility" to set technological standards with regard to what happens over the airwaves. Twenty members of Congress dispatched a letter in September calling for speedy reinstatement of at least the television broadcast flag, though no politician offered an outright endorsement at Thursday's hearing.

"There are far better alternatives to the heavy-handed technology mandates proposed today," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, the digital rights group that brought the case against the FCC's broadcast flag rules. "They include a multipronged approach of consumer education, enforcement of copyright laws and use of technological tools developed in the marketplace."


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Broadcast Flag
These people should have learned by now that no matter what kind of flags or restrictions they put on broadcast shows, it will only take around six weeks for an enterprising young hacker to figure out how to circumvent the system and publish it all over the Web. Then they will be back to square one scratching their heads while the rest of us happily record any content we want.
Posted by yrrahxob (77 comments )
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Oh well dumb and dumber strikes again
Oh well, to sell 300 million plus replacement digital tv's and a digital recording device to replace the old VHS, you don't sell the replacement device, which is about effective as a doorstop with the implementation of new proghibition flags! Oh well, looks like we elected a rather large bunch of dummies and halfwits in this current congressional sitting, to rule over us with their lack of wisdom and insight and the obsequient willingness to pander special interest groups! Time for a nationwide funded anti flag restriction petition, to reinject realism to these elected halfwits!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looks like Hollywood will have to payoff more
more in Congress than they thought.

Wasn't it the RIAA that tried to sneak some agenda of theirs in the Patriot Act?
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Go ahead...
with the broadcast flag. There isn't anything on TV worth recording any more any ways. With the bleeping of words like ass and ****, the mini-commercials that they put on the bottom of the screen while the program is going, the scrunched up credits with more commercials, the regular commericals and the general lack of quality programming who in their right mind would want to record anything?

Besides it will come out on DVD and we can get it then. Thought there aren't many modern shows I am interested. I tend to go for more of the older shows that have some uniqe-ness and quality. Not this mindless junk they have today.

Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Everything old is new again!
This is the exact same argument used to kill the DAT. All it did was stifle the industry and postpone the inevitable. Then came the CD-Rom and right after that was "Clone CD". Why waste the time and energy.
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
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