H’w’d sends up flag

Solon warns MPAA on broadcast flag plans

WASHINGTON — Rep. Rick Boucher to Hollywood: Don’t even try it.

The Virginia Democrat told Daily Variety that any attempt by the Motion Picture Assn. of America to get the House Energy and Commerce Committee to somehow restore FCC-mandated antipiracy technology, recently thrown out by an appeals court, will not be welcome.

The committee is working out details for legislation on the transition to digital television. Bill will focus on a hard date by which all broadcasts must be digital and will include details on how to ease the transition for the industry and consumers alike.

But since the antipiracy technology, known as broadcast flag, involves DTV, Hollywood is expected to likely try to get some kind of broadcast flag measure attached to the bill. This is particularly since the MPAA has been talking to congressional staff at least since March about possible flag legislation (Daily Variety, March 23).

MPAA spokesman John Feehery said, “We haven’t really settled on a strategy on broadcast flag yet. It’s unclear what we’re going to do. All options are still open right now.”

Not an option

But to Boucher, third-ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, using the DTV bill as a vehicle for flag is not an option.

“That would definitely hinder” the bill, Boucher said. “Broadcast flag should not be considered as part of DTV legislation because broadcast flag is very controversial and a lot of people oppose it.”

In 2003 the FCC initiated rules that would require digital televisions, certain personal computers and VCRs manufactured after July 1 of this year to have broadcast flag technology.

Digital broadcasters mark — or flag — a transmission by embedding a protective code. A broadcast flag reader on the receiving device then restricts the ability to copy the program or content and upload it onto the Internet.

Hollywood supported broadcast flag as a means of protecting movies broadcast digitally, which will happen exclusively after the transition to digital television transmission.

Court on their side

Public interest groups opposed the rules, claiming they would unfairly restrict consumers’ right for legitimate copying and that the FCC ultimately lacked the authority to issue them. Last week a federal appeals court agreed on the second count and vacated the rules.

Boucher added that Hollywood should not expect an easy time of getting broadcast flag legislation in the future.

“At the end of the day, the MPAA is not going to get an un-amended broadcast flag bill. They might get broadcast flag plus something they don’t want, but they won’t get it un-amended,” Boucher said.

A member of the Energy and Commerce Committee majority staff declined to comment on whether chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) would welcome a broadcast flag measure attached to DTV legislation.

But it’s doubtful Barton would: Barton plans to sponsor the DTV bill and is negotiating with the two senior Democratic committee members — Reps. John Dingell (Mich.) and Ed Markey (Mass.) — over two sticking points. Those are the amount of federal subsidy required to help low-income households afford the transition to DTV and the form the subsidy will take.

Barton has repeatedly said he wants a strong, bipartisan bill, which would be virtually impossible with a broadcast flag measure attached.

Woo the Senate

A Democratic congressional staffer expects the MPAA will focus its initial efforts on the Senate, which led the effort on a package of copyright protections Congress passed and President Bush signed last month.

“There are a lot of receptive ears on (the Senate) Commerce (Committee),” the staffer said.

The Commerce Committee oversees the FCC, which might be involved in any broadcast flag legislation. But since the issue also involves copyright, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely receive visits from industry reps, too.

“We expect the MPAA will be all over the place,” the staffer said. “They’re very generous with their lobbying time up here.”