US Appeals Court rejects FCC’s attempts to control digital piracy: ALA v FCC

June 2005

Television, Internet

The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has rejected the US broadcast regulator’s attempts to control the copying of digital TV with an anti-piracy technology. The Court has ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overstepped its authority in its attempt to control how electronic devices work in the US. The “broadcast flag” system the FCC proposed is a technology that is a piece of code attached to programmes which tells devices that receive digital signals the level of copy protection on that programme. “We can find nothing in the statute, its legislative history, the applicable case law, or agency practice indicating that Congress meant to provide the sweeping authority the FCC now claims over receiver apparatus,” said the appeals court panel. Supporters of the flag had argued it would combat the illegal copying and distribution of TV programmes but critics said it would strop people making legitimate copies or copies for educational, teaching, criticism or review purposes. It was also feared that the rule would set a precedent, meaning the FCC would have the right to say how future TVs, computers, and other devices which can receive digital signals, are made


The Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) COMMENT :“This case is a great win for consumers and for technology innovation. It’s about more than simply broadcasting. It is about how far the FCC can go in its regulations without permission from Congress,” said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn. “Had the flag been implemented, Hollywood, acting through the FCC, would have been able to dictate the pace of technology in consumer electronics. Now, thankfully, that won’t happen. While we recognize that the content industries may ask Congress to overturn this ruling, we also recognize that Congress will have to think very hard before it puts restrictions on how constituents use their televisions.” Since the FCC announced the July 1st deadline, EFF had been encouraging consumers to beat the Broadcast Flag by purchasing HDTV receivers manufactured before the restriction, as well as teaching them how to use the hardware with free, open-source digital video recorder applications such as MythTV. Part of the education campaign was a daily countdown to the date when the Broadcast Flag was to take effect.
EFFector Vol. 18, No. 15 May 13


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