Stalwart, omnipresent Farhad Manjoo calmly eviscerates Hollywood's calls for a "broadcast flag" that would prohibit the transfer of digital television programs over the Internet, and that really entails telling electronics manufacturers how they must make their machines:
- On its Web site, the Motion Picture Association of America provides a handy FAQ to help people understand the "broadcast flag," the latest copy-protection scheme that Hollywood wants the government to mandate. According to the MPAA, the idea is a near-perfect solution to a pernicious problem — the threat that the coming age of high-definition TV will be derailed by a few bad apples intent on trading episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" over the Internet.
"What is the broadcast flag?" the MPAA site asks. To which it provides this simple answer: "The broadcast flag is a sequence of digital bits embedded in a television program that signals that the program must be protected from unauthorized redistribution. It does not distort the viewed picture in any way. Implementation of this broadcast flag will permit digital TV stations to obtain high value content and assure consumers a continued source of attractive, free, over-the-air programming without limiting the consumers' ability to make personal copies."
....The MPAA is counting on your apathy. It's precisely because the flag seems, on the surface, so innocuous that the studios are having an easy time pushing it to regulators in Washington. And the regulators are biting: According to close observers of the process, the Federal Communications Commission will soon adopt a rule requiring all technologies capable of receiving digital TV signals — everything from HDTV sets to DVD players to general-purpose PCs — to recognize and protect flagged TV shows.
If adopted, such a rule is sure to cause a great deal of hand wringing in the PC industry, which is, increasingly, counting on the convergence between entertainment and computing to push sales. The last thing that hardware manufacturers want is for Hollywood to be able to legislate how computers are put together. According to people familiar with the rule the FCC is pondering, the broadcast flag would force all computer companies to make a stark choice: Either add digital television capabilities to their machines and then, as some critics of Hollywood say, "weld the hood shut," making sure that everything else in the PC — the DVD recorder, the hard drive — is sealed with copy-protection? Or stay away from HDTV altogether, sacrificing sales?