June 21, 2005 | By Danny O'Brien

Flag Day

It's about 36 hours into our "48 Hours to Stop the Broadcast Flag," and, as is the way with campaigns, I thought I'd blind everyone with a few statistics.

The story so far: ever since the courts struck down the Broadcast Flag, we've been waiting for Hollywood to seek a legislative fix.

The truth is, it's tough to pitch the Broadcast Flag to politicians.

It's not a "Think of the Children" kind of deal. It's not even a "Think of the Evil Pirates" easy sell (remember, it won't stop unauthorized copying). It's a stretch to make Broadcast Flag legislation sound like anything but what it is: "The Break Your Constituents' TV Sets Bill of 2005."

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to try to sneak bad laws past politicians. Even if legislators don't initially support a proposal, support can be attained through political horse-trading.

But the more attention a bad proposal like this gets, the harder it becomes to horse-trade. Pushing through a manifestly unpopular provision costs valuable political capital.

At the beginning of this week, we learned that a Broadcast Flag amendment might slip past the gates in an appropriations bill. It's easy to see how this could happen. Despite strong opposition to the flag in the Internet community, in many circles it's still considered "non-controversial."

But that was Monday evening.

Within the space of a few hours, the committee was Slashdotted, BoingBoinged and Instalanched.

By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the 27 members of the Senate Appropriations Committee received more than 11,000 emails and faxes. That's nearly 500 faxes an hour. Dianne Feinstein alone received more than 2,600 messages in her inbox. Kay Hutchison, the senior senator for Texas, received 1,441 letters.

And these are just the numbers EFF has. We don't track telephone calls. But we do know that many of you listened when we joined Public Knowledge in urging you to call your senators directly. If you tried to call and the line was engaged, it was likely occupied by someone else griping about the same amendment. Staffers say they were "swamped."

Today, the phone calls, email messages, and faxes continue to flood in. This is a mass protest even without voices from many of the more populous states, which don't have senators on the committee.

Suffice it to say that you don't get that kind of reaction except for very controversial bills. You did it. You got the attention of every senator on the Appropriations Committee.

And so far, it's working. No one proposed a Broadcast Flag amendment in the sub-committee on Tuesday. The next opportunity will be Thursday at 2 p.m. By then, everyone on the committee will have been briefed by their besieged staffers. And in the briefings will be words to the effect that this is an issue with "a great deal of voter concern."

For these senators, the Broadcast Flag now comes with its own red flag.

It's not over yet. The entertainment industry won't give up easily, and there are plenty of sneaky tricks left to pull.

But by acting now, you've given your legislator a reason to decline Hollywood's advances. You may even have given a few the back-up necessary to keep declining.

We challenge you to keep the momentum going. Tell your friends about the Broadcast Flag and forward this link. You can make a difference -- you already have.


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