New US Bill Would Cripple Digital Radio Devices

April 2006


The Electronic Frontiers Foundation report that Representative Mike Ferguson (Republican, New Jersey) has introduced the Audio Broadcast Flag Licensing Act 2006, H.R. 4861, a House companion bill to the Senate’s broadcast flag bill. This bill would require that all future digital radios (both terrestrial, like HD Radio, and satellite, like XM and Sirius) “include prohibitions on unauthorized copying and redistribution of transmitted content.” The FCC would be tasked with working out the details. This is the culmination of months of lobbying by the RIAA to lock down the “record” button on your next radio. Despite the fact that, under existing copyright law, building and using digital radio recorders is clearly legal, thanks to the Audio Home Recording Act. The EFF say that 4861 is chilling in at least three ways.  First, the bill forces technology creators to get a license from the FCC to build a radio receiver and incorporate DRM if the receiver has a record button. In other words, satisfying the Code of Federal Regulations would come before satisfying
customers. Notice that “unauthorized” copying and redistribution will be prohibited, rather than unlawful copying and redistribution. Translation: unless you get permission, it’s forbidden, even if it would be a fair use or perfectly legal under the AHRA.

The bill also says that the restrictions “shall not be inconsistent with the customary use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with the purposes of this act and other applicable law.” This freezes fair use based on yesterday’s “customary uses,” rather than leaving room for tomorrow’s innovators. Remember, time shifting with your VCR was not “customary” in 1976, nor was platform-shifting CDs to your iPod in 1997. The RIAA’s filings with the FCC on this topic back in 2004 are suggestive of what it considers permissible. Among the
many restrictions they’ve asked for:

* preprogrammed recordings must be for no less than 30 minutes;
* recordings cannot be divided into individual songs
* you be allowed to jump between songs;
* recordings must be encrypted and locked to the individual recording device CD OR iPod!);
* recordings can only be triggered by a human pressing a “record” button or by pre-programmed date-and-time (like your old VCR!), which means no smart metadata driven features like TiVo’s “Wishlist.”

The EFF takes issue with the RIAA’s stance that the RIAA “believes that these rules appropriately balance the interests of users in recording material off-the-air while protecting the interests of the music industry….”


For more on the RIAA’s attempts to ‘cripple’ digital radio:

See also EFF Files Brief in P2P File Sharing Case, Fights Expansion of Copyright Holders’ Rights

For more on the RIAA’s lawsuits

ARTICLE: Campaigners back call for DRM debate: The Open Rights Group has agreed with MP Derek Wyatt that the British Library should organise the DRM debate, but disagrees with his call for a European Internet governance body,39020645,39257505,00.htm

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