EFF Concerned About British Broadcast Flag

The idea of the broadcast flag is rather unsettling to many Americans. It restricts many things one can do with a television set that he or she could otherwise normally do such as time shifting.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

In London, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed comments with the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) in the British House of Commons about plans for digital television broadcasting in Europe. In comments submitted last week, EFF expressed concern that switching off analog broadcasts could result in new digital television standards that unduly restrict the public and manufacturers.

The DCMS was known as the Department of National heritage before 1997. The idea is that the priorities are concerning children and young people, communities, delivery and economy. Clearly in this instance, it is living up to the priority of the community.

In comments submitted last week, EFF expressed concern that switching off analog broadcasts could result in new digital television standards that unduly restrict the public and manufacturers.

The Digital Video Broadcasting Project (DVB) — a group that creates standards for digital television in Europe, Australia, and much of Asia — has proposed a complex system for restricting digital broadcast programming after reception, analogous to the disastrous broadcast flag that was proposed in the United States (with some limited success thus far) This system, called “Content Protection Copy Management” (CPCM), has been under discussion since 2003.

The DVB Project is an industry consortium of over 300 members responsible for digital television. They are published by a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC) and the European Broadcast Union (EBU). The standards can be found here.

The CPCM restrictions include an “authorized domain” governing the number of devices that can use content and a myriad of broadcast flags that will restrict usage, recording, and storage. They also specify compliance rules for all manufacturers. As with the US broadcast flag proposal, these compliance rules would result in a ban on the use of free and open source software in connection with digital TV reception and usage.

“The DVB broadcast flag is much more sweeping than the one they tried for in America,” warned Cory Doctorow, EFF’s European Affairs Coordinator, who attends the standards-specifying meetings on behalf of manufacturers who use free and open source software in their products. “The North American Broadcasters’ Association has threatened to turn this into a global regulatory mandate. If that comes to pass, you’ll never know which TV shows your devices can record or whether a new device will be allowed onto your home network. Additionally, this will give a veto over technology to entertainment companies, who’ve already ruled out open source because it lets users modify their own equipment.”

Americans know all too well about the broadcast flag. It was struck down in the courts, however, the recording industry has remained persistent and is attempting to pass legislation in congress that not only raises the broadcast flag, but also puts the broadcast flag on digital satellite radio. Many consumer interest groups have worked hard to strike it down only to see it come back up like a reoccurring nightmare that gets worse and worse.

EFF believes that a European broadcast flag would also be used to gain political leverage to argue again for a broadcast flag in the United States. It seems to make sense as the recent laws in the United States that restricts fair use has been claimed as something that works by the CRIA as they try and pass Bill C-60 in Canadian parliament regardless if anyone who is actively involved in this rejects these types of laws outright.

EFF has full comments submitted to the British House of Commons here.

One-page summary available here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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