Framework Set for ‘Broadcast Flag’ Copyright Control to Go Global

by on March 13, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2007 – The Electronic Frontier Foundation on Tuesday released a paper about the entertainment industry’s move to take copyright controls global.

The report is the result of EFF’s participation in a closed-door session of the Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB), the predominant global standard for digital television. (America uses a different digital standard that supports high-definition.)

EFF’s report documents the extent to which the DVB consortium has signaled its assent to copyright control technology. EFF called these a series of “unparalleled restrictions” on consumers’ rights to enjoy lawful digital content. These include “enforcing severe home recording and copying limitation,” “imposing controls on where you watch a program” and “dictating how you get to share shows with your own family,” according to EFF.

America’s transition to digital television makes use of a different standard, created by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. The ATSC standard did not have any copyright controls. But at the insistence of motion picture studios, ATSC added a technology described as the “broadcast flag.”

A U.S.-based standards organization known as the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group, a subgroup of the Copy Protection Technical Working Group, released a specification governing the broadcast flag in 2002.

In November 2003, the Federal Communications Commission imposed a requirement that all television manufactures implement the broadcast flag by 2004. In 2005, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the requirement on the grounds that the FCC lacked jurisdiction. The motion picture industry has since unsuccessfully pressed for legislation re-instating the requirement.

“We have made a number of policy mistakes in the U.S. by giving a lot of power over technology to entertainment companies,” said Seth Schoen, staff technologist at the EFF. “This is the next battleground, and the Europeans are being asked to repeat these mistakes within their own technology and regulatory framework.”

Schoen said that the copy-control technology, called Content Protection and Copy Management (CPCM), would place strict limits on home recording conducted on digital video recorders and other electronic devices. Although the American “broadcast flag” would have imposed restrictions on legally sharing copies of digital movies, the flag did not restrict the number of copies a user could make of a digital movie.

But because the DVB technology governs cable, satellite and broadcast transmissions in Europe and elsewhere, the new copyright controls approved by a DVB technical committee could also affect Europeans’ and others’ ability to watch pay-television programs on their computers.

“In Europe, there are people creating TiVo-like systems on their computers that receive pay cable and satellite systems,” said Schoen. Such technologies are strictly limited in the U.S. because cable companies refuse to approve technologies that do not meet the anti-piracy specifications of CableLabs, the industry’s research consortium.

The new copyright controls within CPCM would restrict the ability to see pay-TV on computers, said Schoen. Implementation of other controls could also be triggered by ratification of a Broadcasting Treaty currently under negotiation by the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.

To attend the technical meetings in which the DVB copyright controls were discussed, EFF was required to pay a 10,000 Euro annual admission fee. It received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to do so, said Schoen.

The Copy Protection Technical Working Group in the U.S. requires participants attending its standards sessions to pay a $125 per-meeting fee. Although CPTWG claims to be an open forum, reporters are barred from attending.

A spokesperson from the Motion Picture Association of America did not return a call seeking comment on the EFF report by the time of publication.

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