October 19, 2005 | By Danny O'Brien

Your Artist Remuneration Dollars at Work: Broadcast Flag Update #3

The story so far: the MPAA's href="http://p2pnet.net/story/6629">multi-million dollar travelling
salesmen had descended on Washington, pitching and wheedling to get the href="http://www.eff.org/broadcastflag/three_minute_guide.php">Broadcast
Flag language, which would give Hollywood control of your digital TV and a
veto on future TV tech, into law.

In the House, the MPAA shenagled twenty representatives to support the Flag in the House Commerce Committee. But that's not a majority and support is
wobbly. Following your
letters and phone calls to members of the committee
, opposition has firmed
up and, apparently, after reading one long explanation from one expert voter,
at least one representative regrets signing the MPAA's letter.

In the Senate, Hollywood took a less direct path: hitch a ride on the
fast-track budget Reconciliation bill, as amended by MPAA-friendly Senate
Commerce committee members.

That Flag amendment was due to happen tomorrow. The word is that the MPAA is in trouble. Thanks to the work of you and our Washington friends, href="http://www.terryfrazier.com/fullThread$msgNum=1855">committee
members have grown concerned about the MPAA's plan to attach a
non-budgetary amendment to the Reconciliation Bill. Unless the bonuses of
Hollywood lobbyists are considered part of the budget, there's no way the Flag
could be considered eligible.

After failing in the market, the courts, and last June's Appropriations bill,
it's yet another defeat for the Flag-wavers. But the MPAA's lobbyists are
nothing if not tenacious—so what's their "Plan D"?

One potential ploy would be to introduce a separate bill containing the Flag.
What we're hearing, however, is that the MPAA—still fearful of fair-use
amendments and compromises—is keeping to its policy of sneaking its
language into other legislation.

So, if they don't get their amendment through tomorrow because of a bunch of
letter-writing Net users, they're going to push for putting in a last-minute
amendment to the Reconciliation bill on the Senate floor.

You have to say this for Hollywood: they don't lack for chutzpah. It only
takes one senator to href="http://www.c-span.org/guide/congress/glossary/byrdrule.htm">challenge a
non-budget item amendment in the Reconciliation Bill. If the href="http://www.c-span.org/questions/weekly44.htm">Senate Parliamentarian
agrees with the challenge, the item can only stay with the support of a
super-majority of sixty senators. It'd be like surviving a filibuster.

In other words, if this is true, the MPAA is betting they have more senators
on their side than the President of the United States has on his.

We'll see what happens. Congressional thrill-seekers can watch href="http://commerce.senate.gov/hearings/witnesslist.cfm?id=1639">the webcast
of the committee hearings tomorrow (Thursday, October 20) starting at 2:00 p.m. EST (11:00 a.m. PST). Watch out for mention of the Broadcast Flag. Whether it turns up or not, the scene will be set for this to move from this Committee and out to the wider Senate: a chance, hopefully, for everyone to href="http://action.eff.org/site/Advocacy?id=129">make their voice heard.

Update: No Flag! The committee chair did comment on the backroom wrangling over non-Budget items in the bill. There was a suggestion that outstanding, controversial items - perhaps including the Flag - might be moved to a separate bill as early as next week.


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