Broadcast Flag: Media Industry May Try to Steal the Law

By Richard Menta 6/21/05

The entertainment industry calls file sharing theft. I disagree. But even if I did agree, it would be hard to stomach their self-righteous declarations after learning what they plan to do on Capitol Hill in the next few days.

They are attempting to steal law.

I'll explain and it all begins with Broadcast Flag.

Richard Menta

Broadcast Flag is this contraption that the media conglomerates got the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to require on all future television sets and recording devices. The flag would allow content producers to put unlimited restrictions on the television programming we freely watch and record today. For example, with Broadcast Flag Fox Television can prevent you from taping first run episodes of the Simpsons if they so desire.

They cannot do this with today's electronics, but by requiring all future TV sets and digital recorders (Tivo, recordable DVDs etc.) to include circuitry that gives content producers direct control of every machine sold, well...eventually the old will replace the new and with it the fair use rights the Supreme Court reinforced two decades ago in the Betamax decision.

Broadcast Flag was a foregone conclusion, a one-sided collusion between the media industry and the FCC. Then a court ruled that the FCC over extended its power and killed it.

Without the FCC in their corner the media industry had to turn to Congress to force Broadcast Flag's acceptance. The problem is this can take years and under heavy debate and scrutiny the Broadcast Flag measure could easily stall.

So when all else fails, cheat.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is reporting that Hollywood is attempting to sneak the Broadcast Flag provision into a large Senate appropriations bill tomorrow. According to the EFF "Rumor has it that a senator will introduce an amendment on Tuesday in the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science sub-committee to reintroduce the flag. On Thursday, it goes to a full committee vote."

Once in the massive bill - a bill that will likely pass - Broadcast Flag will conveniently be lost in the pages and pages of legal mumbo jumbo. If the bill becomes law, Broadcast Flag becomes law. No debate, no public hearing, no presentation of evidence. As for the Senators voting for it, most will not even know its there. Even if they do, if the bill contains major sections advantageous to their state or some element that plays well for re-election (like support for 911 widows) they will not let something they barely understand like Broadcast Flag prevent them from voting for the bill.

And all that the Hollywood lobbyists need is one sympathetic Senator to sneak the bill in for them. It will be the committee and not the entire Senate that will vote if Broadcast Flag can be part of the bill, a decision made without debate or evidence from an opposing side. By placing it in a bill with a high chance of passing they are almost guaranteeing its passage. In all practicality only a small cadre of Senators will make Broadcast Flag a law.

In essence, Hollywood will steal law. Such goings on are not unusal on the beltway. It still doesn't make it right.

And they call file traders thieves?

The EFF has posted this Action Alert page that will allow you to quickly notify the Senators on the appropriations committee that you disapprove of Broadcast Flag. If enough citizens do this (and Slashdot has posted this link, which should give it a good start) it will make Broadcast Flag appear too visible an issue for the Senators on the committee to just gloss over. Hopefully, it will even prevent this travesty.

For those thinking about spending money on that big plasma screen or DVD recorder next year, don't wait. If Broadcast flag succeeds the new set you buy down the road may refuse to show programs your old set can.


The iPod Shuffle is available on Amazon

Other MP3 stories:
RIAA Suits May Actually Promote File Sharing
Broadcast Flag At Half Mast
Copyright Bill Passed in Congress Will Criminalize File Sharing