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IT Coalition Fires at Broadcast Flag

Software and computer companies last week reiterated their demand that the FCC reject TV copy-protection rules backed by Hollywood and broadcasters.

"Proponents of the broadcast flag have not provided sufficient evidence that it is needed now and that its implementation would justify the direct and indirect costs to consumers of such a mandate," the IT Coalition said in reply comments filed last week.

The coalition comprises the Business Software Alliance and Computer Systems Policy Project. If the FCC decides that a content-protection solution should be mandated, the IT Coalition urges one "created and supported by all affected industries."

The IT group claims that the flag regime wouldn't guarantee the well-established fair-use right to unfettered home recording and is a solution in search of a problem. A more pressing concern is closing the "analog hole," which allows viewers to make an analog copy of digital content and reconvert it to digital to mass-produce illegal DVDs.

Even proponents of the flag concede that the analog reconversion is a serious worry that remains unaddressed. The flag "alone doesn't really ring any bells because there are so many work-arounds," Fox engineering chief Andy Setos said.

Jim Burger, the IT group's Washington attorney, pointed to experiments described to the FCC by MIT graduate student Raffi Krikorian, who made several attempts at transmitting large video files between high-powered personal computers. "No matter how 'fat' the upstream or downstream pipe," Krikorian wrote, "transferring the sheer number of bits that comprise a single television show that was broadcast over the air ... is impossible."

Flag supporters countered in a filing sponsored by the NAB, MPAA and others that high-value content such as sports and new movies over time will "migrate away" from free over-the-air broadcasting if programming is easy to copy and transmit over the Internet or other forms of file-sharing.

The broadcast flag, endorsed by the cable industry, is aimed at limiting unauthorized distribution of content, would be embedded in spectrum accompanying video programming and would tell digital recording and storage devices how many times, if any, a user may copy a program for use outside personal video equipment. The FCC has proposed to require that broadcast receivers and video storage devices be equipped to recognize and follow flag instructions.