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The Broadcast Flag: It's Not Just TV


The Broadcast Flag was an FCC Rule adopted in late 2003 to restrict “indiscriminate Internet redistribution” of television programs by limiting the capabilities of digital television tuners. While it would not have stopped television piracy, the Rule would have sharply limited independent and open-source development of home media technology with features like TiVo’s “pause live TV.” I argue that technology mandates must be assessed not only by their effectiveness against the problem they are designed to address, but also by their collateral effects on technology development and end-user innovation. Measured against this wider circle of effects, the Broadcast Flag Rule would hurt far more than it helped. [Since this piece was published, the Broadcast Flag Rule was struck down by the D.C. Circuit on the grounds that the FCC lacked jurisdiction to regulate signals once received. As of late 2005, Congress is being lobbied to re-enact the Flag rule or to give the FCC the power to do so.]