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Valenti waves flag against digital piracy

MPAA head defends antipiracy reg

WASHINGTON — Under assault from consumer groups, MPAA topper Jack Valenti Thursday defended the implementation of the broadcast flag, a new federal reg aimed at blocking Internet piracy of digital entertainment.

In the coming weeks, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve one of a number of proposals that showbiz is pushing to help curb illegal copying and online swapping of movies and TV shows that are increasingly being broadcast in digital form with high-definition quality and sound.

The entertainment industry has been pushing the broadcast flag idea in Washington for years, but some consumer groups and electronics companies have been equally as passionate in their opposition.

These opponents argue the flag — a sequence of digital bits that signals the program must be protected from unauthorized redistribution — would force a fed-approved technology on individual computer and software companies and constrain consumers’ use of over-the-air broadcasting and computer technology.

In the final days before the FCC releases the fine points of the new flag, the music and movie industry and key lawmakers and consumer groups are scrambling to influence the outcome.

In a letter Wednesday to FCC topper Michael Powell, Valenti dissected his opponents’ arguments point by point.

“In recent days, concerns have been raised against implementation of the broadcast flag that suggest widespread misunderstanding of how the flag would impact consumers,” he wrote. “I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight about what the flag would and would not do.”

Valenti then sets out to debunk some of the many myths, he argues, that have cropped up recently. The flag, he writes, would:

  • have no effect on the ability of consumers to record digital broadcast programs;

  • not impact all digital consumers’ electronics devices and computers (it will affect a relatively small universe of consumer equipment);

  • will have no effect on the ability of consumers to view DTV programs on regular analog and digital TV receivers;

  • would not render obsolete the DVD players that consumers have already purchased (these DVD players cannot play back HDTV recordings today, and the broadcast flag does not alter that fact); and

  • will not increase the cost of consumer equipment.

“The broadcast flag is not the perfect solution, but it is adequate for the task at hand: preventing massive unauthorized redistribution of DTV programs over the Internet and other digital networks to ensure consumers will continue to be able to watch high-value programming via free, over-the-air television,” he wrote. “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”

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