Why PC Owners Should Care About the FCC’s Broadcast Flag

The Internet Patrol - Patrolling the Internet for You

Have you heard about the “broadcast flag”? It’s an anti-copying scheme for digital broadcasts which has been mandated by the FCC. The broadcast flag is essentially a two-part scheme: part one is the flag itself – a little bit of data included in the digital broadcast stream which says “hey, I’m copy protected media, you can’t redistribute me!” Part two is the requirements for various digital receiving devices and other systems to honour the broadcast flag in part one. And this is where you, dear PC owner, come in.

Because as things currently stand, effective on July 1st of this year, every, and Aunty does mean every, new device capable of receiving a digital broadcast, and sold in the United States, must also be capable of receiving, recognizing, and honouring the broadcast flag. This includes, among other things, digital television tuners for your PC, along with digital televisions, VCRs, DVRs, and PVRs.


The purpose behind broadcast flags is ostensibly to ensure that digitally broadcast content which the content providers don’t want to be mass-redistributed can’t be mass-redistributed, while still allowing the consumer to record the content with, say, their TiVo or ReplayTV. In theory this sounds reasonable, however many say that it suffers from the same issues as do the current schemes for the digital rights management of audio content, namely that there is no one standard, and the standards don’t play nice with each other. So, for example, you may record this week’s West Wing on your DVR, and find that you can’t actually play it back on your digital HDTV. And of course forget about sharing your copy of West Wing across the Internet with your spouse, or, heck, even yourself.

Almost unbelievably, the FCC has used some amazing contortionist reasoning for enacting the broadcast flag requirements. The reasoning goes something like this: “Hollywood content providers won’t make digital content available without these protections. We want to move the country to a digital broadcast paradigm. If we protect digital broadcast content with broadcast flags, content providers will provide digital content, and consumers will buy (these crippled) digital receivers.”

Or, as it was put during a recent legal challenge to the broadcast flags, in Federal court, without digital rights management protection for digital broadcasts, such as the broadcast flag, the amount of digital content would be limited.

No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
Click for amount options
Other Amount:
What info did you find here today?:

 

Uh. Ok. But why does the FCC care about the quantity of content available to consumers?

Said one Federal judge on the case, to the FCC, “Congress didn’t direct that you maximize content.”

This particular challenge is ongoing but unlikely to succeed, as the plaintiffs may not actually be properly before the court (you need as a plaintiff someone who has been actually harmed by the broadcast flags, and these plaintiffs – primarily librarians and consumer rights groups – may not be able to show adequate harm).

 

In the meantime, those who care are advised to purchase their digital receiving devices (such as that PC tuner card) before July 1st.

It’s almost enough to make you long for the good old days of Macrovision, isn’t it?

No Paywall Here!
The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
Click for amount options
Other Amount:
What info did you find here today?:

14 thoughts on “Why PC Owners Should Care About the FCC’s Broadcast Flag

  1. It’s now 2009. Looks like it dint survive. My Tivo still plays back on a digital TV… Too much hype?

  2. I object to being throttled by Big Brother (Business, Burocracy, Government).
    I have bought a new time-shift recorder which is zone-free and will continue to do everything possible to maintain my freedom of (fair) action. Let’s all do that!

  3. Prediction – in five years this function will be unused and forgotten. Remember the “V-chip” (I think: aka “Parental Chip) for opting-out of M, R, and X rated broadcasts? As far as I know it is still required, but who ever knew how to use it, or wanted to, and are broadcasts still flagged to trigger it? If this gets bad enough (ie, if more than ten percent of shows use it) there will be hardware and software hacks for thse who know how to use the ‘net and a screwdriver. The so-called “content providers” pushing this (and the MUCH more disturbing “Let’s censor ISP’s and kill P2P”) are actually the lawyers, who are legal whizzes but know as much about current technologies as Fred Flintstone – and, as brought in Betamax, probably don’t beleve they should be included (in BetaMax Jack Valenti admitted he had a VCR, he and his family used it totime-shift and speed past commercials, and he would try to keep doing so lest the rest of the family forced him to move out). Some of the companies have already realized, like Sony, that they have pitted one division against another and may end up in court suing themselves, heh heh.

    There are other possible uses for the flag, think of this one as a bit set in a byte. They may serve some actual purpose.

  4. Perhaps we will be forced to make our purchases outside of the USA. I am fairly certain that some builders/suppliers are stockpiling as we discuss this. We may be able to buy, it will just cost more. There are several sites where it is possible to not only to download programs to beat current content protection schemes, but also provide pdf files as guides and instructions for doing that. Mom and Pop local stores will lose out on sales and the large chains will not carry those products. Big business and Big government.

  5. The broadcast flag is really only a half baked idea. It won’t stop copying of content and distribution on the internet. All that needs to occur is that the digital signal be converted to analog at some point, thus removing the broadcast flag. It’s not like the stuff being distributed on the net is SD/HD quality now anyway.
    It really only harms those who have no intent to distribute copyrighted works.

  6. i guess what i’m wondering is who gave the FCC the power to tell manufacturers what they have to build into there systems. this fight with the recording and broadcast industries has been going on for a long time in many different forms (anyone remember betamax?) in response to point number 5…..government gets the rap because they alow bussneses to tell them how to run the country instead of the people like it was intended in the first place. (taken a look at gas prices lately?)

  7. Oh, here we go again. When are they going to ban copy machines and tape recorders?

    Property owners are entitled to prevent others from ripping them off. But do they have to do it in such a half-baked way?

  8. What can we, as private citizens do about it? There is one thing that we can do that would have a great impact on this decision. Vote with our checkbook. Don’t buy the products. Business is all about the laws of supply and demand. If demand is not there, then business will have to change the supply to create a demand or else go out of business.

  9. Ah, yes. As always, there’s a pro-business Republican (I’m a republican, too – just not one who believe that profit is next to Godliness) ho has bought into the myth that this is government’s idea. It isn’t. It is BUSINESS wants, business pushed the governement into mandating (because consumers wouldn’t buy their products if there was an alternative), and business benefits from. All government gets is the rap for it.

    Do look beyond propaganda.

  10. This is simply another example of petty bureaucrats making themselves by expanding their control at the expense of public freedoms.

  11. “In theory this sounds reasonable, however many say that it suffers from the same issues as do the current schemes for the digital rights management of audio content, namely that there is no one standard, and the standards don?t play nice with each other.” It appears that someone has forgotten the “one standard” applied by the US government: Increasing the wealth of the wealthy always takes priority over consumer rights, constitutional rights and human rights.

  12. Now for the good news. Except for a couple of shows, which are supposed to get the ax this season, network television, in my opinion, sucks. If what I have now doesn’t work for a long time to come, then maybe I’ll do something really radical, like read a book.

  13. You write “sold in the United States”. What about free products like an open source media player? Or is it only for hardware?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.