August 3, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

Why Do We Care So Much About TV?

That's a question we've started to hear lot since we started the Digital Television Liberation Project. The short answer: it's the technology mandate.

Rob Pegoraro writes in a recent Washington Post article about TiVo's bid to improve its product's functionality that "[If] a programmer or an engineer with a bright idea has to go to Washington, hat in hand and lawyers in tow, to request permission to sell a better product -- and is then told 'just wait awhile' -- we are on our way to suffocating innovation in this country."

The sad thing is, we're a lot further down that road than Pegoraro suggests.

The broadcast flag mandate requires that every manufacturer of products with tuner cards seek FCC approval first or use "approved" methods and outputs. This is a novel and dangerous form of technology regulation in the name of copyright protection. This fight isn't about television per se, but about showing the error of protecting copyright by stifling tech innovation.

This Soviet-style "planned innovation" scheme doesn't just apply to HDTV over-the-air broadcasts -- it's also the case, thanks to the FCC, for video on digital cable and satellite. And now the RIAA is now pushing the same "broadcast flag + FCC-mandated copy protection" for digital radio.

This is exactly what the entertainment industries told us they wanted in 2002 when they backed the notorious "Hollings Bill." That legislation would have forced every new digital media technology, at its birth, to comply with some kind of "content protection" design mandate imposed by an inter-industry cabal and administered by the FCC.

The entertainment industry lost the fight for the Hollings Bill. Unfortunately, it looks like it's trying to take the same ground by different means, one new technology at a time. So yes, EFF cares about digital TV -- and any other promising technology that Hollywood aims preemptively to control.


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