FCC's Broadcast Flag Overturned

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A federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communications Commission's controversial broadcast flag mandate today, ruling unanimously that the FCC acted outside the scope of its authority when it adopted broadcast flag regulations.

The FCC regulations stated that a flag should be attached to "over-the-air" digital content--both network and local station programs, such as movies or prime-time series. Any device with a digital TV tuner can grab that content, whether it comes over an antenna or through a cable or satellite set-top box. The flag, basically a piece of code, was to have traveled with any show that the broadcaster wanted to protect.

Under the regulations, new consumer electronics devices--including tuner cards for computers--that receive digital TV signals were to have shipped with the ability to recognize the flag and to respect its copy restrictions.

"This is a huge victory on a couple levels," says Ren Bucholz, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's policy coordinator for the Americas. "The court kind of rebuked the FCC for overstepping its bounds... We're ecstatic that the courts had such wonderful language in this decision and that it was a unanimous decision."

The ruling by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came in a case brought by the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Public Knowledge. Set to take effect this July, the broadcast flag would have mandated that any device capable of receiving a digital TV signal would have to respect a flag that would limit your ability to record and copy that program. Read the full PDF of the ruling here.

"This is definitely a blow to broadcasters as far as determining what is done with digital content once it is given to the consumers," says Michelle Abraham, principal analyst with In-Stat.

A spokesman for the FCC said the agency had no comment on the ruling.

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