Copyright & Fair Use - Couch Potatoes Rejoice

Copyright and Fair Use: Couch potatoes and hardware makers rejoice – for now
July 2005
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has overruled the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation that would have made many digital television receivers and tuner cards illegal starting July 1, 2005. The court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to regulate what happens inside your TV or computer once it has received a broadcast signal.

In American Library Association v. Federal Communications Commission, the court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to prohibit the manufacture of computer and video hardware that doesn’t have copy protection technology known as the “broadcast flag.” The regulations created by the FCC in November 2003, had been intended to limit unauthorized Internet redistribution of TV broadcasts.

“The key in this case was the court’s finding that the FCC may only regulate digital signals up-to the point where the signal is received and not what happens after the transmission is complete,” said R&P Technology Industry Group member, David D. Sprague. “Now that the FCC broadcast flag regulation has been overruled, proponents will be lobbying Congress to pass a bill that will provide the FCC with the authority to regulate copy protection after the broadcast transmission is received.”

So what problem does broadcast flags cause for TV watchers? According to nonprofit activist Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FCC’s copy protections interfere with fair use rights of the viewing public. The broadcast flag (a sequence of digital bits or flags) are embedded in a television program that signals the device as to whether or not the program may be recorded. Even if it can be recorded, the broadcast flags can then place restrictions on the recorded content. Such restrictions include protecting the program from unauthorized redistribution, inability to skip over commercials, and a “forced” reduction in program quality if recorded.

“Broadcast companies believe copy protection technology is necessary because they fear that once an unprotected digital TV broadcast becomes available it will be copied and distributed over the Internet at the same quality as the original,” says Sprague. “As a result, broadcasters feel the program will lose its value because there will be less of an opportunity to license or purchase the rights to programs. In the end, regulation of digital signals will impact consumers and manufacturers – not just content owners.”

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