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Rally Round the Broadcast Flag

A few apparently ill-informed voices from within the ranks of the broadcast industry have recently called into question the necessity of a broadcast "flag" to the survival of our industry and the motivations of its inventors and supporters.

Unfortunately, this small group has mischaracterized the effect the flag would have on DTV viewers. While they have a right to their opinion, the comments coming out of that camp are just that—opinion, not fact—and, sadly, most of their opinions are just plain wrong. Let me clearly state what the flag does not do:

  • The broadcast flag does not restrict home recording of DTV.
  • It does not restrict the making of multiple physical copies.
  • It does not restrict the unending physical copying of those copies.
  • It does not restrict where such physical copies may be played or to whom they are lent or given.
  • The flag will not render obsolete or change the feature set of even one DTV product that has been sold to consumers to date. Not one.
  • It will not restrict the movement of recorded DTV shows about the personal digital network, no matter if you are upstairs at home, in your car or boat, or at a permanent or temporary vacation spot. Technology exists to enable that movement while simultaneously complying with the flag's true purpose: eliminating redistribution outside the personal digital network.
  • It will not stifle innovation.
  • Digital recorders and personal digital networks of all sorts can and do comply with the flag's simple rules. Examples include PVRs, D-VHS, DVDs, and computers and related technologies. Wired or wireless, software or hardware, any future innovation complying with the flag's meaning can receive, record and otherwise process DTV. And Table A, an important element of the flag proposal (and, sadly, far too involved to explain here), is the very embodiment of marketplace competition and innovation.
  • It will not affect the viewers' experience as they make their home recordings. But "flagged" recordings will not be able to be redistributed in an indiscriminant fashion—say, on the Internet.

The broadcast flag is important to broadcasters. In fact, it is exclusively for the benefit of broadcasters and all the people who work in broadcasting, every single one of us. If a broadcaster can't assure a sports league or entertainment producer that a program broadcast over its stations will not show up in other markets worldwide, such content will bypass stations and go directly to pay-TV channels that are already putting content-protection systems in place.

And for those who correctly point out that DTV signals take a long and therefore impractical amount of time to be sent over the Internet today, here is a cautionary tale: Ten years ago, it took eight hours to download a single song; today, a 10-year-old with no computer savvy can do it in a minute with a click of the mouse.

Those are the facts. Broadcasting must not become the medium that redistributes licensed content in indiscriminant ways. If that were to happen, television would become little more than public access, and then all of our jobs would be at stake—literally, every single one.