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FCC Raises Digital Flags

The Federal Communications Commission Wednesday approved 13 digital-recording technologies designed to let consumers store TV programs for personal use but to prevent them from illegally retransmitting the recordings over the Internet.

One of the approved technologies, manufactured by digital video recorder maker TIVO, is highly controversial.

Hollywood and the NFL argued that TIVO's technology is susceptible to abuse because its recorder transmits copies of a program unencrypted to multiple devices controlled by a TIVO subscriber. FCC officials, however, said the agency's copying restrictions are aimed at preventing mass distribution of a copied program, a danger they said TIVO doesn't pose.

FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin disagreed. Explaining his decision to dissent from the TIVO approval, he said the commission should have put limits on how far apart other TVs and recording devices may be from the original TIVO recorder to accept its signal.

The approved technologies are based on the FCC's “broadcast flag” system, which inserts a digital code into the programming signal alerting TVs and recording devices not to permit copying by outside devices not under the set-owner's control.

The FCC said it will not mandate what specific technology is used to implement the flag, but will approve future products on a case-by-case basis.

The first batch of 13 case-by-case approvals: four versions of Sony's MagicGate, Thomson's SmartRight, Philips' and Hewlett-Packard's Vidi Recordable DVD Protection System, Digital Content Protection's High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection, 4C's Content Protection for Recordable Media,  Digital Transmission Licensing Administration's Digital Transmission Content Protection, RealNetworks' Helix DRM Trusted Recorder, Microsoft's Windows Media Digital Rights Management, and Victor Co.'s D-VHS.