Back in November of 2003 the FCC issued some new regulations that require manufacturers of digital recording devices to modify their products so they will recognize a broadcast flag encoded in the data stream of digital programming. Devices that conform to these guidelines would encode any programming that carries one of these “flags” in some way that will prevent that recording from being shared from device to device or over the Internet and the current start date for these rules is July 2005. After that date any devices that have this technology built into it will be severely restricted in what they can do with the television shows and movies they record. Part of the problem, though, is that the FCC hasn’t clearly defined the rules regarding what’s allowed and what isn’t as of yet. Now several groups have joined forces to file a lawsuit questioning whether the FCC has the authority to make such mandates.
The American Library Association, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other public-interest groups asked (PDF) the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last week to stipulate that the FCC has no right to impose content controls on equipment manufacturers or to restrict copying of copyright materials.
“What is at stake is what kind of rights we have when most media is digital,” said Art Brodsky, a Public Knowledge spokesman. “We want to make sure that rights aren’t taken away because the material is in a different format.”
“We want this technology to be the best it can be, not the second- or third-best,” Brodsky said.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which has been leading the fight for the technical restrictions, argues the rules are necessary to prevent widespread peer-to-peer sharing of copyright programs, which it says would lead to the end of free television.
The FCC has yet to decide the exact rules. It also hasn’t clarified exactly what viewers would be able to do. For example, would someone be able to make a copy of a television program at home and then take it to work? Or could viewers share a program over a home network from a PC to a digital video recorder?
But the rules will clearly curtail the practice of taping a show for a friend or taking a copy to a friend’s house, unless one uses an analog VCR or a digital recorder bought before the deadline.
As the articles goes on to point out the use of broadcast flags won’t work in the long run simply because it’s not all that hard to build your own PVR using off the shelf parts that may fall outside the regulations established by the FCC. Not only that, but anyone who really wants to share the files will find a way to do so. There’s already a Linux application that will crack Apple’s iTunes encryption and re-encode the files as MP3s, what makes them think the same thing won’t happen with whatever format the FCC requires?