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Librarians Make Noise on Flag Issue

Librarians and other fair-use advocates have written key congressmen to ask for a hearing on the so-called "broadcast flag."

The FCC adopted the flag, which is embedded in receiver technology, to prevent unauthorized distribution of copyrighted digital transmissions, but a court threw out the rules saying the FCC was not authorized to mandate the receiver technology because it was post-transmission.

That was the decision the fair use advocates backed, but Congress is preparing DTV transition bills that could potentially reinstate the rules by giving the FCC the express authority to do so.

In the letter, which went to the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Commerce Committees, the groups said:

"[T]he issues raised by the flag regime for technology and copyright policy are too complex and far-reaching to be addressed by Congress in a hurried manner.

"The broadcast flag regime would reach not just the design and manufacture of televisions, but also that of digital devices networked with televisions, including personal video recorders, personal computers, and Internet enabled mobile phones.... [T]here is a substantial risk that the flag regime would restrict users from engaging in a wide variety of fair uses critical to public affairs, education, and culture."

The groups are also concerned about a push by the record industry to adopt a similar flag regime for radio.

"We believe that the Committee should conduct hearings on the flag regime," they wrote. "Although the broadcast flag concept has been touched upon in a few hearings, no congressional committee has conducted an in-depth investigation of the significant technology and information policy questions the flag raises."

Studios and broadcasters argue that the flag is critical to the digital transition because, without copyright protection, their content is prey to widespread piracy. Fair-use advocates counter that the flag is overprotective and innovation-chilling.

Signing the letter: the American Library Association, American Association of Law Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Center for Democracy & Technology, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Medical Library Association, Public Knowledge and Special Libraries Association