As a consumer of digital content, I have a grave concern about the proposed
Broadcast Flag. I enjoy the flexibility and control that technology gives me. I
can be more than a passive recipient of content; I can modify, create and
participate. Technology currently gives me more choices by allowing me to record
a television program and watch it later; clip a small piece of TV and splice it
into a home movie; send an email clip of my child's football game to a distant
relative; or record a TV program onto a DVD and play it at my friend's
apartment. The broadcast flag seems designed to remove this control and
flexibility that I enjoy.
Historically, the law has allowed for those not affiliated with creating content
to come up with new, unanticipated ways of using it. For example, Sony invented
the modern VCR -- a movie studio did not. (Sony did not own a movie studio at
the time.) Diamond Multimedia invented the MP3 player -- a recording label did
not. Unfortunately, the broadcast flag has the potential to put an end to that
dynamic. Because the broadcast flag defines what uses are authorized and which
are not, unanticipated uses of content which are not foreseeable today are by
default unauthorized. If we allow the content industry to "lock in" the
definition of what is and is not legitimate use, we curtail the ability for
future innovation - unanticipated but legal uses that will benefit consumers.
I am a law-abiding consumer who believes that piracy should be prevented and
prosecuted. However, if theoretical prevention comes at the cost of prohibiting
me from making legal, personal use of my content, then the FCC should be working
to protect all consumers rather than enable those who would restrict consumer
rights. In the case of the broadcast flag, it seems that it will have little
effect on piracy. With file-sharing networks, a TV program has only to be
cracked once, and it will propagate rapidly across the Internet. So, while I may
be required to purchase consumer electronic devices that cost more and allow me
to do less, piracy will not be diminished.
However, the most egregious fault I see with this is the lack of acceptable
provisions for backward compatibility. Televisions and computer components
already sold will be rendered obsolete since they will not be capable of using
their full capabilities- capabilities that were paid for in excess by early
adopters. Why should there be a penalty imposed on those who actually sought out
new technology so they could enjoy a fuller range of media content? Where is the
benefit for these consumers?
If the media companies decide that with sufficient lobbying they can continue to
change the rules of fair use and copyright whenever they perceive a problem then
it won't be long before we face a completely altered landscape with the major
corporations deciding how all media should be viewed and reused.
In closing, I urge you to require the content industry to demonstrate that its
proposed technologies will allow for all legal uses and will actually achieve
the stated goal of preventing piracy. If they cannot, I urge you not to mandate
the broadcast flag.