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Why the broadcast flag should go forward

MPAA chief Dan Glickman says that without proper protections, it will be increasingly difficult to show movie or baseball games on free TV.

A federal appeals court earlier this month killed FCC rules that would have forced TV gear to use copy protection technology known as a "broadcast flag." For Hollywood's studios, which have sought to limit unauthorized Internet redistribution of over-the-air TV broadcasts, the ruling was a big setback. But it also was a reprieve for makers of HDTV sets, PC tuner cards, and USB and Firewire tuners. CNET News.com invited Motion Picture Association of America head Dan Glickman and media attorney Jim Burger to debate the broadcast flag issue and explain how they think the decision will affect consumers.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission did not have the statutory authority to issue a regulation requiring the implementation of the so-called broadcast flag in digital television devices by July 1, 2005.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit did not rule against the idea of a broadcast flag. It only ruled that the FCC does not have authority from Congress to issue such a regulation.

In the end, it will be the consumers who suffer the most if broadcast flag is not mandated for the digital era.
As CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, my principal concern is protecting the magic of the movies. So why should I care about a so-called broadcast flag regulation?

The answer is simple. I want to make certain that the American people will continue to have the opportunity to see our movies and television shows on free television in the digital age.

The digital era presents great opportunities and great challenges. The opportunities come with the high-quality, high-resolution pictures that greatly enhance the viewing pleasure of the consumer. The challenges lie in protecting that content so that it is not stolen and resold or rebroadcast by video pirates.

Without proper protections, it will be increasingly difficult to show movies, television shows or even baseball games on free television.

Broadcast flag technology protects the content of our shows from redistribution over the Internet. The sole purpose and effect of

the broadcast flag is to assure a continued supply of high-value programming to off-air digital television consumers. Failure to implement the broadcast flag on the July 1 date will be a significant step backward in the transition to digital television. It would also lead to unnecessary confusion in the marketplace, since most television manufacturers have already changed their production to incorporate broadcast flag technology.

Some say that this regulation would take away TiVo, but in fact, the FCC has certified a TiVo implementation of the broadcast flag. 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.

The basic outline of the broadcast flag was approved in principle by a large and diverse group of consumer electronics, computer technology and video content companies. This consensus was reached after a thorough process involving all affected parties.

The irony, of course, is that modern cable and satellite delivery systems already have imbedded technical means that maintain the value of digital programming by preventing its redistribution over digital networks. The broadcast flag extends that same protection in the estimated 15 percent of American households that do not subscribe to cable or satellite services but rely instead on over-the-air broadcast television.

Our companies want to continue to show their movies and television shows to viewers who don't or can't subscribe to cable or satellite systems. But without the broadcast flag, that option will look less and less appealing. In the end, it will be the consumers who suffer the most if the broadcast flag is not mandated for the digital era.

This is the opinion of Dan Glickman, the Motion Picture Association of America chief, concerning broadcast flags. For an opposing opinion, read media attorney Jim Burger's column.