May 4, 2006 | By Danny O'Brien

Two Flags, One Train Wreck

The story so far: the broadcast flags, both video and audio, have been wandering the halls of Congress, looking to smuggle themselves into law, like tramps looking for an empty boxcar. For nearly a year, neither the MPAA and RIAA have been able to find them a ride. The MPAA failed to introduce the broadcast flag language into an appropriations bill, or the reconciliation bill, nor could they sneak it into last year's urgent digital television transition bills. The RIAA's audio flag has been rebuffed at every turn.

But early this week, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) introduced a long awaited 125-page draft reform of the Communications Act to the Senate Commerce Committee last week, and both flags found their lift. With telecom reform likely, it's critical that you take action now to stop these dangerous proposals from coming along for the ride.

(Read on for more after the jump)

The flags are stuck in a crowded carriage with a handful of other controversial causes: net neutrality, universal service, municipal broadband. The bill is already a product of much behind-the-scenes wrangling, and there will be jostling and bargaining before a vote takes place. Though supposedly bi-partisan, Senator Inouye gave it the most unenthusiastic endorsement a sponsor could give.

Many members of Congress still don't understand the danger to innovation and fair use posed by these government technology mandates. Experts agree that neither flag mandate will prevent continued leakage of music and TV onto the Internet, but it will give FCC bureaucrats, acting in the interests of the entertainment industry, the power to meddle in what you do with bits in your own home.

Senator Stevens, who earlier this year seemed to understand the everyday difficulties caused by DRM, has nevertheless introduced the flag language as an attempt:

to strike a balance between the needs of broadcasters and the desires of the consumer electronics industry not to have the federal government pick technology winners and losers.

Mandating DRM on all future TVs, radios, and every device that can record, transmit, or display them is not "striking a balance." It's a betrayal of tomorrow's innovators and the public that would otherwise stand to benefit from their efforts.

Hollywood doesn't think the bills strike a balance either -- the flag supporters are dissatisfied because they feel the legislation doesn't go far enough! The MPAA and broadcasters are already complaining about changes to its original broadcast flag proposal. After the panning from consumer groups the flags received in committee, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) and Gordon Smith (R-Oregon) have inserted language into the bill that instruct the FCC to carve out exceptions for the flag for "short excerpts of content over the Internet," HD TV transmission over home LANs, distance learning, and news and public affairs. And the RIAA won?t be happy about the digital radio flag proposal, which is condemned to 2 years of bureaucratic proceedings before it goes into effect.

That's right -- these already atrocious proposals could get even worse if the MPAA and RIAA have their way. Regardless of what exceptions are accepted or removed, the flags can't be "fixed." They should simply be thrown out. Tell your Senator now to oppose the flags at our Action Center.


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