June 20, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

You Have 48 Hours to Stop the Broadcast Flag

Rumor is afoot that Hollywood is taking another crack at the Broadcast Flag on Capitol Hill, this time by sneaking a Flag provision into an appropriations bill before the Senate.

If what we hear is true, the provision will be introduced before a subcommittee tomorrow and before the full appropriations committee on Thursday. That gives us 48 hours to stop it.

EFF's action alert, geared to people with senators on the committee, is here. Public Knowledge also provides a number of excellent talking points in an email urging readers to phone their senators:

* There has been No Debate in the Appropriations Committee over the Broadcast Flag.

* Broadcast Flag is Not Narrow: There is no "narrow" way to implement the broadcast flag scheme because it necessarily puts the FCC in the role of gatekeeper, having to approve and certify every technology that might carry DTV -- computers, cellphones, gameboys, etc. As proof of the broad scope of the flag, when petitioned to exempt lawful uses of digital television, the FCC declined saying "practical and legal difficulties of determining which types of broadcast content merit protection from indiscriminate redistribution and which do not."

* Causes Consumer Confusion and Will Slow DTV Transition: At a time when Congress is concerned about making television sets obsolete at the end of the DTV transition, the flag would similarly render obsolete much consumer equipment because commonly used devices will not work together unless all use the same copy protection technology. The flag will not help the transition to DTV, and indeed might harm it because it makes consumers' TVs less functional than before.

* Limits Fair Use: As the May 11, 2005 Congressional Research Service report noted, the flag will prevent important fair uses, like the ability of teachers to engage in distance learning and the ability of individuals to email fair use portions of works to themselves and others.

* Not about P2P: The infringement associated with Revenge of the Sith and other movies that have appeared online has absolutely nothing to do with the flag. Rather, the flag is about protecting supposedly "free" over the air digital television. MPAA provided no evidence that this content was being pirated nor would it be anytime in the near future.

* Content Already Shown in HD with NO PROTECTION: In contrast to the argument that broadcasters won't put on "high value" content, we note that most prime time television is already broadcast in HDTV, without protection. Viacom threatened in 2002 to withhold programming, but did not do so and is now one of the leading producers of HDTV.

* Court Spoke to the Merits: The D.C. Circuit's broadcast flag decision was not merely "procedural." In ruling that the FCC did not have the authority to impose a broadcast flag scheme, the Court was ruling on the scheme's merits -- namely, that it is so far reaching in its scope that it would permit the FCC, in the words of one judge at oral argument, to regulate "washing machines."


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