TV Anti-Piracy Tech Rules Blocked
By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005; 1:03 PM
A federal appeals court today threw out Federal Communications Commission rules requiring some consumer electronics devices to contain technology that prevents copying of digital television programs.
The "broadcast flag" rule, adopted in late 2003, was designed to stop potential piracy of a new generation of television programs that offer superior sound and video quality.
Such programming is a regular staple on for-pay cable and satellite TV systems, which scramble their signals. But the entertainment industry, which lobbied heavily for the rules, has threatened to withhold digital programs on free broadcast stations because of the risk that they might be copied and distributed over the Internet.
To address those concerns the FCC ordered that under the broadcast flag system, programs would be marked with a digital code that could only be recognized by devices equipped with technology to read it. While viewers could still see digital programs on existing televisions, they could not record or view them on increasingly popular DVD recorders unless those devices were equipped with flag technology.
Similarly, a recording could only be made or viewed on computers equipped with the flag technology, which would prevent the program from being distributed online. Recording to video cassette recorders would not have been affected by the rules, which were scheduled to take effect in July.
In a sharply worded decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia said the FCC abused its authority by forcing design requirements on consumer devices that merely receive television signals.
"We can find nothing . . . indicating that Congress meant to provide the sweeping authority the FCC now claims over receiver apparatus," the court ruled.
The decision was a victory for library associations, consumer groups and digital-rights advocacy groups, which argued that the rules were an unprecedented and illegal government intrusion into the design of hardware.
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