What is a Broadcast Flag?
Using a broadcast flag is an anti-DCI measure for digital television programmes. Digital television companies may choose to insert a flag along with the video and audio data of the television programme. The flag may contain restrictions on the user’s rights with respect to recording and copying the television programme. For instance, the programme can be recorded but cannot be transferred to another machine like a hard disk.
The FCC mandated that all devices capable of receiving digital television content sold after July 2005 be able to recognize the flag. The devices are then to limit users’ abilities to record and copy data. It will be illegal to distribute or sell non-compliant devices after July 2005.
On 6 May 2005, however, a federal court overruled the FCC, saying that it has acted out of its scope of authority. A higher court may overturn this ruling in the future. The United States Congress may also decide to intervene and grant the FCC the power to effect its mandate.Back to top
The broadcast flag scheme would have diminished compatibility between new devices and old ones. For instance, digital television recorded by devices sold beyond 2005 will not work with older DVD players. The broadcast flags require digital television to be recorded in another format that is not backward compatible.
Also, Public Knowledge, an organization opposed to the broadcast flag scheme, alleges on their website, “nothing in [the Communications Act of 1934 and its amendments] permits the FCC to a) impose broad product design mandates on consumer electronics devices and computers and b) adopt what is, for all intents and purposes, copyright? policy”. (The Communications Act of 1934 in the US regulate the FCC’s scope of regulation.)
Consumer rights and fair use may have been sacrificed in this scheme as well. For instance, the fair use doctrine permits a small portion of copyrighted works to be copied for private research or study, but this fair use right would have been taken away with the broadcast flag scheme.
This scheme also vexes open source? proponents. By design, all open source programs can be easily modified by anyone. However, legislation necessitates that demodulators cannot be easily modified to ignore broadcast flags. Thus, open source digital television programs would not be compliant with the broadcast flag scheme requirements.