Broadcast Flag Debated in Congress

Commentary by K. Matthew Dames, executive editor.

This afternoon, the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property (which has jurisdiction over intellectual property matters will hold an Oversight Hearing on “Content Protection in the Digital Age: The Broadcast Flag, High-Definition Radio, and the Analog Hole.

Some of the usual characters will appear to testify, including MPAA CEO Dan Glickman, RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol, and Michael D. Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association. (Gigi B. Sohn of Public Knowledge also is scheduled to testify.) The MPAA is expected to present a pair of draft bills that articulate its interpretation of the broadcast flag debate.

Do you ever wonder why the intellectual property debate is so stale? It’s because Big Content dominates the congressional hearings, the legislative proposals, the public relations campaigns, and the overall message. I will concede that Big Content is good at controlling the message, but not because the message is worthwhile. Big Content dominates the message because it still controls the major content distribution channels and the money needed to shape the messages that flow through those channels.

Even organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which does fabulous work, seem not have learned how to craft the message so that cats like Jerome from Southeast DC is interested in what happens inside the dome across town. (Given Clinton Portis’ abysmal performance last Sunday against the Giants, I gather it will be quite a while before Jerome appears again.) Here’s how EFF explains the broadcast flag debate:

Today, you can use any device you like with your television: VCR, TiVo, DVD recorder, home theater receiver, or a PC combining these functions and more. If the FCC’s broadcast flag mandate had taken effect, some of those capabilities would have been forbidden.

Responding to pressure from Hollywood, the FCC had adopted a rule requiring future digital television (DTV) tuners to include “content protection” (aka DRM) technologies. All makers of HDTV receivers would have been required build their devices to watch for a broadcast “flag” embedded in programs by copyright holders. When it comes to digital recording, it would be Hollywood’s DRM way or the highway. Want to burn that recording digitally to a DVD to save hard drive space? Sorry, the DRM lock-box won’t allow it. How about sending it over your home network to another TV? Not unless you rip out your existing network and replace it with DRMd routers. Kind of defeats the purpose of getting a high definition digital signal, doesn’t it?

This doesn’t appeal to Jerome from Southeast DC, Iris from uptown, Callie from Iowa, or any person that just wants a simple explanation of why they should care about broadcast flag.

Here’s what Jerome from Southeast DC wants to hear: “Dude, if The Man gets his way on this, you won’t be able to use your TiVo, or your DVD player, or your CD player because The Man is going to jack your signal. You wont be able to skip ads on The Simpsons, you won’t be able to fast forward past 32 minutes of previews that appear on The Wire DVD, and you could miss Clinton Portis go for 9 yards on four carries.”

Jerome does not want to know anything about technology; he only wants to know if he can’t hear his music, record his games, or watch his movies. If you tell him Big Content is going to make him pay full price for the right to have his digital signal jacked, he’ll understand that.

I don’t want to hear another word from Glickman or Bainwol. They should be put on ice for six months, minimum. I want to hear from Jerome. And organizations like EFF and Public Knowledge need folks like Jerome, Iris, and Callie to be interested in these issues for them to have a shot at competing with Big Content.

Legislating IP. Broadcast Flag and the Analog Hole. Nov. 1, 2005.


Anne Broache. Congress Divided on Broadcast Flag Plan. Nov. 3, 2005.

Editor’s Note: While I quibble with how EFF, Public Knowledge and other organizations explain the importance of these issues in a way the general public can understand, they do make it easy for people who understand the issues to get involved. EFF, for example, has created a fill-in form (complete with letter) that will send a letter of protest to the congressional representative in your district. I applaud EFF’s efforts to make it easy for people to protest Big Content’s broadcast flag initiative.

CopyCenseâ„¢: K. Matthew Dames on the intersection of business, law and technology. A business venture of Seso Digital LLC.

Written by sesomedia

11/03/2005 at 08:04

Posted in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: