October 4, 2005 | By Donna Wentworth

Europe's Coming Broadcast Flag: A Stealth Attack on Innovation and Consumer Rights

A European standards body is laying the ground for a sweeping mandate that mirrors and exceeds the US Broadcast Flag proposal. The European version of the Broadcast Flag promises to ban open source, compromise user freedom, and give entertainment companies a veto over the future of digital television technology.

EFF has been fighting the Broadcast Flag since its ignoble birth in the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG) -- an obscure technical standards body where Hollywood and tech industry representatives met behind closed doors to craft "consensus" specifications for any gadget or software program that touches Hollywood product. The end goal was to give these specs the force of law through an FCC ruling. That way, no matter what device you purchased, Hollywood would have remote control over how you record, replay, or transmit digital television broadcasts -- and the proposed restrictions didn't even attempt to protect your fair use rights.

There was an added bonus for the technology companies that agreed to cooperate: the Broadcast Flag mandate would outlaw "non-robust" Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) that wouldn't take orders from the top. That meant no competitor could create a product more useful and attractive to the market than the "consensus" devices everyone was agreeing to hobble. No more "free market" nonsense for digital television -- the Broadcast Flag would create a "well-mannered marketplace," where everyone would play by the (Hollywood-crafted, FCC-enforced) rules.

The plan almost worked. The FCC agreed to issue the Broadcast Flag mandate. But with the clock running out before its planned July 2005 implementation, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down, ruling that this kind of regulatory power is too vast even for the FCC.

But Hollywood wasn't just working here in the US. While the Broadcast Flag was being pursued at home, the same players were chasing a version intended to apply in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America.

(Read more after the jump.)

You see, over in Europe there's a group called the Digital Video Broadcasting project (DVB) -- an obscure technical standards-specifying body through which Hollywood is currently crafting "consensus" design specifications for any gadget or software program that...well, you know the rest.

This time, the stakes are even higher. Not only does DVB create technical standards for an enormous chunk of the globe, it's also more ambitious. As our own Cory Doctorow explains in EFF's comments submitted last week to the British House of Commons, the European Broadcast Flag will be much more restrictive than the American version. And if it makes it past the goal posts abroad, you can be sure that US entertainment industry lobbyists will add "global parity" to the list of reasons why we need new government regulations that will be useless for fighting real pirates but excellent at crushing innovation, free competition, and fair use.

Even though the European Broadcast Flag is heart-stoppingly broad, unfair, and ugly, practically no one in Europe has heard of it -- until now. With the British government calling for comment on the digital television transition, EFF has produced a paper detailing the danger presented by this looming project. This is the first of many critiques of the DVB "Content Protection Copy Management" (CPCM) project that EFF will publish -- EFF is limiting its criticism to those elements of CPCM that the group has already made public, and as subsequent disclosures are made, we will keep you up-to-date on new revelations about this plan to misappropriate the European public's side of copyright to enrich a few large, mostly American rightsholders.

For more about the European Broadcast Flag, check out EFF's press release, one-pager, and comments to the Culture, Media, and Sport committee in the British House of Commons.

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