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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Eagle

FCC combats piracy

New technology will prevent illegal distribution

Those who copy digital television shows may find it difficult to redistribute these copies because of an order passed by the Federal Communications Commission.

The order, passed Nov. 4, requires all products that can receive a digital signal to include "broadcast flag technology" by July 2005.

The broadcast flag is a digital code embedded in digital broadcasting that will signal to the receiving equipment - such as televisions, computers with digital tuners and plug-n-play devices - to limit the redistribution of the content, according to an FCC press release.

"We're trying to prevent digital piracy and expedite the transition from analog to digital television," FCC spokeswoman Michelle Russo said. "Digital television will have many benefits for consumers, including multicasting, interactive programming and the already-popular High-Definition Television."

By protecting digital broadcasts, according to the order, the FCC is making sure that high quality content will be available to everyone, not just cable or satellite subscribers.

"If the FCC didn't pass this rule, our high-value content would migrate to cable and satellite, where there are already protections in place," said Fritz Attaway, executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America, a major proponent of the new technology system. "The broadcast industry is a valued customer to us, and we want to protect them."

While the FCC says that consumers will not have to buy any new equipment and that "the flag does not restrict copying in any way," Russo said that if you record a digital program with a new flag-enabled device, you will not be able to play it back on an old DVD player or computer.

The FCC has left it up to broadcasters to decide how much of their programming they will flag.

Critics of the broadcast flag, including the Consumers Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have said that under this rule, broadcasters could flag public affairs, news, and older content with expired copyrights.

"This represents a step in the wrong direction, a step that will undermine innovation, fair use and competition," said Fred von Lohmann, an intellectual property attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In a letter to the FCC, the foundation's board members claimed that since nearly all the pirating taking place now is through the analog, not digital format, "it will be no harder to redistribute content on the Internet with the flag in place than it would be without the flag."

The foundation also questions if there is an actual threat to pirating digital TV.

In a different report, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that even though blockbuster movies like "Men in Black" and "Saving Private Ryan," as well as the highly rated TV shows "ER" and "Law and Order," have all been broadcast digitally, there have been no documented cases of these programs being shared over the Internet in digital format.

"Today DTV pirating is not a major problem, but we are trying to create a secure environment so there won't be a crisis two to five years down the road," Attaway said. "By acting now, we are making it easier for the consumer because it will be a seamless process."

The film industry loses more than $3 billion of potential revenue each year because of piracy, according to the MPAA.

"We will not allow the movie industry to suffer the pillaging that has been inflicted on the music industry," MPAA President Jack Valenti said in a statement to the Senate Commerce Committee concerning file sharing.

According to the MPAA's economic review for 2002, box office receipts have gone up 35 percent since 1998, despite the fact that the number of films released has gone down. Movie attendance increased 10 percent, even though ticket prices went up 2.7 percent.

DVD sales have grown at an even higher pace, with an 84 percent increase from 2001 alone.

"I don't see a problem with that [the broadcast flag]," AU sophomore Mike Dickel said. "There needs to be a certain level of protection."

Dickel has more than 50 complete movies downloaded on his computer's hard drive, he said.

"I buy DVDs though," Dickel said. "I actually didn't start buying DVDs until after I started downloading movies."

The FCC is currently undergoing a review to approve the digital content and recording technologies that will be implemented in July 2005.


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