Politicians want to raise broadcast flag

Twenty members of Congress call for quick approval of the controversial broadcast flag designed to curb digital TV piracy.

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
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Twenty members of Congress are calling for the reinstatement of the "broadcast flag," a controversial form of copy prevention technology for digital TV broadcasts.

In a letter Thursday, the politicians called for rapid approval of a federal law adopting the broadcast flag, which would outlaw over-the-air digital TV receivers and computer tuner cards that don't follow strict anticopying standards.

"Program producers will naturally be reluctant to license their high value programs for digital distribution without protection from widespread acts of infringement over the Internet," said the letter, sent to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House of Representatives panel on Internet and commerce.

No legislation has advanced in either the House or the Senate, but opponents of the broadcast flag have been warning that the proposal could be attached to spending bills. The bill funding the Federal Communications Commission through 2006, for instance, is still before a conference committee.

In a 3-0 ruling in May, a federal appeals court rejected the FCC's regulations adopting the broadcast flag. But the ruling was a limited one: the judges said that though the FCC lacked the authority to outlaw TV tuners, Congress could choose to enact a law allowing it.

Since then, the Motion Picture Association of America has been lobbying Congress to reinstate the scheme. In an essay for CNET News.com in May, MPAA head Dan Glickman wrote: "The broadcast flag does not inhibit copying, nor does it prevent redistribution of programming over a personal home network--it only restricts unauthorized redistribution of programming over the Internet and other digital networks."

Thursday's letter from Rep. Charles Pickering, R-Miss., and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., demonstrates that the MPAA has secured broad bipartisan support. It was signed by 12 Republicans and eight Democrats.

Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that has sued to yank down the FCC's broadcast flag, said in an e-mailed response to the letter: "The broadcast flag legislation would give the Federal Communications Commission control over virtually any technology, from set-top boxes to computer software."

Other signatories to the letter: John Shimkus, R-Ill., George Radanovich, R-Calif., Mike Ferguson, R-N.J., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., Mary Bono, R-Calif., Lee Terry, R-Neb., Ed Whitfield, R-Kt., Bobby Rush, D-N.J., Vito Fossella, R-N.Y., John Shadegg, R-Ariz., Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Albert Wynn, D-Md., Michael Doyle, D-Penn., Charles Gonzalez, D-Tex., Charles Bass, R-N.H., John Sullivan, R-Okla., Frank Pallone, D-N.J.