Freeing Digital TV

The Associated Press wins for the pithiest lead of the day: “People buying the next generation of digital televisions will be able to record and then watch their favorite shows without any interference from Hollywood.” Last Friday, in a big…

May 9, 2005

The Associated Press wins for the pithiest lead of the day: “People buying the next generation of digital televisions will be able to record and then watch their favorite shows without any interference from Hollywood.”

Last Friday, in a big victory for opponents of extreme digital-rights protections, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out a Federal Communications Commissions scheme known as “broadcast flag.” The plan, hatched under pressure from movie studios and television networks, called for manufacturers to put technology into new PCs and digital TVs and video recorders that would have allowed content producers to “flag” video content to prevent viewers from copying it or sharing it over the Internet.

The FCC argued that it had the right to regulate the use of broadcast content even after it entered the home, since the 1934 Federal Communications Act establishing the agency did not explicitly deny it this authority. In its decision the court called this argument “strained and implausible.”

“Had the flag been implemented, Hollywood, acting through the FCC, would have been able to dictate the pace of technology in consumer electronics,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a non-profit group of lawyers and technologists that lobbies for the protection of fair-use provisions of copyright law. “Now, thankfully, that won’t happen. While we recognize that the content industries may ask Congress to overturn this ruling, we also recognize that Congress will have to think very hard before it puts restrictions on how constituents use their televisions.” Wendy Seltzer, special projects coordinator at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, chimed in, calling the decision an “extraordinary victory for fair use and innovation.” Both groups were party to the suit brought against the FCC.

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