The FCC is preparing to move forward with regulations to support the embedding of a “broadcast flag” to encrypt digital television signals. This is a complex issue but it may directly affect your pocketbook and your life for years to come.

Here’s a helpful FAQ by Cory Doctorow about the broadcast flag and the likely consequences if it is imposed on us. An excerpt:

“Congress is anxious to get Americans to switch to digital television (DTV), so it can shut down the analog broadcast towers and auction the spectrum they use to cellular carriers. But Congress can’t shut down analog television until 85 percent of American households buy digital sets.

“Congress is looking around for ways to encourage Americans to buy digital sets. Hollywood movie studios say that if there were Hollywood movies available on DTV, Americans would buy digital sets to watch them with.

“What’s more, Hollywood says that it won’t release the its movies for DTV broadcast until the Feds come up with a Broadcast Flag plan to keep viewers from making digital copies of its movies and circulating them on the Internet.

“The most comprehensive Broadcast Flag proposal to date came from the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG), an inter-industry group with representatives from Hollywood, hardware and software vendors, consumer electronics companies, and broadcasters, cable and satellite operators.

“The BPDG’s final report contained a number of troubling recommendations for implementing the flag, including:

“1. Banning open source.

“In order to keep viewers from modifying their receivers to get around Broadcast Flag restrictions, the recommendations decreed that all devices that interacted with DTV signals (including PCs) would have to be implemented to “frustrate end-user modification.” Since open source or free software is meant to be freely modifiable by end-users, this means that no open source software could be written that would interact with DTV signals, including drivers for DTV peripherals, like burners and storage mechanisms (drives).

“2. Requiring Hollywood permission to make devices.

“Under the BPDG proposal, any output or recording technology in a DTV device would have to come from a list of “approved” technologies. This list would be governed by Hollywood studios, giving movie companies the ability to create private laws about what technologists can and can’t build.

“. . . In addition to taking away the freedom of programmers and technologists to make programs and devices for DTV without Hollywood’s permission, the BPDG proposal would also limit the American public’s freedom to use video in new and innovative ways.”

Read more! It’s worse than it sounds. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is leading the fight against the broadcast flag proposals. Here’s an FAQ prepared by the MPAA, with responses by EFF.

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