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Senate punts on broadcast flag option

The anticopying measure for digital TV fails to surface in a mammoth spending bill currently before the Senate.

A key U.S. Senate panel on Thursday decided not to intervene in a long-simmering dispute over the "broadcast flag," a form of copy prevention technology for digital TV broadcasts.

At a meeting reserved for voting on spending bills, not one member of the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed an amendment authorizing federal regulators to mandate the broadcast flag.

Consumer groups had predicted that such an amendment would be offered at the 11 a.m. PDT meeting and had asked their supporters to contact senators in opposition to the idea. Their worry: The broadcast flag could be injected into an appropriations bill for the Federal Communications Commission.

The strategy seems to have worked. "The broadcast flag amendment was not included in the bill," said Virginia Davis, press secretary for Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

"That appears to be a good sign," said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge. Brodsky warned, though, that the requirement could be inserted when the appropriations bill heads to the Senate floor for a final vote. The broadcast flag would curb consumers' rights to make fair use of digital TV content, Public Knowledge says.

At the meeting, which lasted about 75 minutes, committee members unanimously approved a spending bill--which in part funded the FCC--without any major amendments.

In November 2003, the FCC voted unanimously to adopt the broadcast flag rule, which required manufacturers of digital TVs and computer HDTV tuners to abide by a complex set of regulations designed to limit Internet redistribution of video clips. Manufacturers that did not comply would be subject to government sanctions.

But a federal appeals court in May tossed out the FCC's rule, saying the agency had exceeded what Congress had permitted. The court did, however, note that Congress had the power to authorize the broadcast flag if it chose.

Since then, politicking over the broadcast flag has shifted to Congress. Motion Picture Association of America chief Dan Glickman said in an opinion article last month that the rule is necessary "to assure a continued supply of high-value programming to off-air digital television consumers," and a copy of draft legislation .

CNET's Anne Broache contributed to this report.