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FCC Adopts Broadcast-Flag Rules

The Federal Communications Commission Tuesday adopted rules designed to protect digital off-air TV programming from rampant Internet piracy.

The FCC's embrace of the so-called broadcast flag is considered by Hollywood studios and major TV networks as a critical step in the FCC-led migration from analog to digital broadcasting.

Others claimed, however, that the flag is too restrictive and won't stop Internet piracy of analog programming that has been converted to digital.

Viacom Inc., owner of the CBS broadcast network, at one point threatened to withhold HDTV programming from network release, citing the potential destruction of its intellectual property posed by the massive Internet retransmission and file sharing that has plagued the music industry.

The flag rules affect products capable of receiving programming over the air. Those devices -- which include TV sets, VCRs and DVD players with digital tuners -- must comply with the rules by July 2005.

Under pressure from local TV stations, the FCC rejected a broadcast-flag exemption for news and public-affairs programming.

"This means that even broadcasts of government meetings could be locked behind the flag," FCC commissioner Michael Copps said in a partial dissent.

Cable operators can pass through the broadcast flag or secure the content through their own conditional-access systems. Current FCC rules bar cable encryption of broadcast signals. The agency is seeking public comment on whether to lift the encryption ban.