|Court Blocks TV Anti-piracy
IP Video Services,
Broadband Set Top Box
AP Technology Writer
MAY 6, 2005
Washington, DC --
People buying the next generation of digital
televisions will be able to record and then watch their favorite shows
later, after all.
A federal appeals court on Friday threw out government rules requiring
built-in, anti-piracy technology to let broadcasters and studios
prevent digital shows from being copied.
The three-judge panel for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia said the Federal Communications Commission had
exceeded its authority in requiring such technology in digital
televisions and consumer devices sold after July 1.
|"This opens up the future for consumers to have more wide-ranging
video experiences," said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Washington-based
Public Knowledge, a consumers group. "They will be able to take
advantage of new products and features that won't be dictated to them
by the entertainment industry."
Congress may get the last word. The appeals court panel said lawmakers
could change the law to require the anti-copying technology on new
products. An aggressive lobbying effort by entertainment companies is
"People will cry to Congress," said Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer
Electronics Association, the trade group for device-makers.
The court's decision illustrates the complexity of applying copyright
laws to forthcoming technology. The ruling narrowly hinged on whether
the FCC under a 1934 law could regulate new digital TV and
video-playback devices once the programs they receive are already in
The court said the FCC's arguments that it had such authority were
"strained and implausible."
Consumer groups and library associations challenged the new rules
after they were announced in 2003. Their lawyers complained that the
FCC requirement would drive up prices of digital television devices
and prevent consumers from recording and viewing programs in ways
permitted under copyright laws.
The appeals court panel said there is a "substantial probability" the
anti-copying technology would interfere with libraries legally
transmitting clips of television broadcasts over the Internet for
The technology, known as the broadcast flag, would have been required
after July 1 for televisions equipped to receive new digital signals,
many personal computers and VCR-type recording devices. It would
permit entertainment companies to designate, or flag, programs to
prevent viewers from copying shows or distributing them online.
Most digital TV sets and recording devices already accommodate the
anti-copying technology, so the court's decision will have little
immediate effect. Major television manufacturers design their products
up to 18 months before they hit retail stores and have been preparing
for the upcoming July deadline.
Some manufacturers, however, could choose to market TVs, computers and
VCRs as unrestricted.
"Courts are right to be wary when government institutions seek to
regulate the specific features and functions of safe, useful consumer
technology," said Shapiro.
His trade group did not challenge the FCC rules in court because some
member companies agreed with the requirement. Shapiro said he was
"personally gratified the court took a narrow view over how government
can regulate products."
Entertainment companies said the technology was needed to block
viewers from recording high-quality, digital versions of television
shows and films and distributing them free online. The Motion Picture
Association of America and the National Association of Broadcasters
warned that companies may choose not to air their best programs over
local television if the shows couldn't be protected.
"If the broadcast flag cannot be used, program providers will have to
weigh whether the risk of theft is too great over free, off-air
broadcasting and could limit such high quality programming to only
cable, satellite and other more secure delivery systems," said Dan
Glickman, MPAA's chief executive.
The FCC acknowledged it had never before tried to impose regulations
affecting television broadcasts after such programs are beamed into
households. But it maintained that it was permitted to do so under the
1934 Federal Communications Act since Congress didn't explicitly tell
the commission not to do it.
"We categorically reject that suggestion," the appeals panel said.
There were clear signals for Friday's ruling.
During earlier courtroom arguments, U.S. Circuit Judge Harry T.
Edwards told the FCC's lawyer the agency had "crossed the line" by
requiring the new anti-piracy technology for next-generation
television devices and rhetorically asked whether the FCC also
intended to regulate household appliances.
"You've gone too far," Edwards said. "Are washing machines next?"
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