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Protecting against the Internet


By Scott Bradner


The FCC succumbed to the power of the movie industry and attempted to solve a problem that does not yet exist.  In doing so the FCC tried to balance the rights of consumers and the rights of copyright holders and came up short from the point of view of consumers.


On November 4th the FCC issued a "report and order" in regards to "Digital Broadcast Content Provision."  (  The order part of this document requires that consumer electronics that can be used to receive TV signals broadcast "over the air" (as opposed to distributed via cable or satellite) be able to detect the presence of a marker, known as the broadcast flag, that can be included in a TV program, and block the ability of the user to share a full resolution digital copy of any such program with any device that does not have an approved copy protection system.  The marker the FCC selected is defined in a standard developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee called "ATSC A/65: Program and System Information Protocol for Terrestrial Broadcast and Cable."  (  This standard defines the way that broadcasters include program name and content information in TV broadcasts.  It also defines a way to include a "redistribution control" parameter which is what the FCC has decided to require that TV receivers, including PCs with TV tuner cards, pay attention to. (See page 79 of the ATSC standard.)  Broadcasters get to decide if they want to include the broadcast flag in any particular program,


The FCC's order is nowhere as bad as the movie industry wanted it to be but its bad enough - there is no requirement that all computing devices be programmed in a way that they recognize the flag and constructed in a way to make it impossible to program around it.  But if you buy a new digital TV tuner after June 2005 the FCC requirement means that you will not be able to use your Tivo or PC to record a full resolution digital copy of a protected show to watch later although you will be able to record an analogue copy or a low resolution digital one.


The FCC did not say that broadcasters could not use the flag on public information broadcasts such as the State of the Union speech (for unconvincing reasons) and did not limit what broadcasters could do with any information on a user's viewing habits they might learn from the use of a copy protection system (for no reason I can find).


The FCC says that its aim is to not restrict the user's ability to record programs or make local copies but just to restrict the ability of the user to share the program over the Internet. The Commission is, at best, being disingenuous  when it makes this claim since, quite specifically, you will not be able to record programs using your existing equipment and a new receiver when this order goes into effect.


There was no actual need for the FCC to issue this order at this time since we are years away from being able to transfer full resolution video files to broadband connected Internet users.  Memo to FCC: it is possible to make rules when they are actually needed and it is possible to listen to consumers.


disclaimer:  As a rule, Harvard waits at least until a rule is needed before starting to consider a problem but the above whine is mine.