July 1, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

If You Build It, the DTV Revolution Will Come

Exactly one year from today, the FCC's long-dreaded broadcast flag mandate will take effect. That may be just enough time to create a device that retains the freedoms that the flag will take away.

The broadcast flag mandate is part of Hollywood's plan for what it considers the ideal transition to a future with high-definition television (HDTV). The mandate is aimed at locking down use of the high-definition signal so that copyright holders can exert maximum control over content. Unfortunately, that kind of control doesn't recognize the traditional fair uses we make of copyrighted material, including educational uses and good old-fashioned discussion and criticism (think "The Daily Show"). In addition, by forcing manufacturers to remove useful recording features from television products and forbidding others, the mandate directly threatens innovation and free competition.

As Staff Technologist Seth Schoen put it when the mandate was adopted, "The FCC has decided that the way to get Americans to adopt digital TV is to make it cost more and do less."

EFF's response? Use the time we have left to build broadcast flag-resistant personal video recorders (PVRs) that do more and "cost" less -- at least in the sense that they won't rob us of our current ability to time-shift and lawfully manipulate media.

Spearheaded by Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer, EFF's Digital Television Liberation Project will use these PC-based PVRs as benchmarks, comparing the capabilities of the general-purpose computer to the limited subset of viewing options broadcast flag-compliant devices can offer. "When people see how many more features today's PVR has than next year's, we think they'll be as puzzled as we are by the FCC's choices to 'advance the DTV transition'," says Seltzer.

So what happens after we figure out how to build these PVRs? We go "open source," creating a user-friendly recipe -- or even an entire cookbook -- and sharing it widely.

Of course, we can't do this alone. If you have tech chops, can contribute funding to the project, or simply want to help us get the word out, check out the project website and offer to volunteer.

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