Hollywood, consumer groups fight over anti-piracy mandate

Consumer groups are urging lawmakers to resist lobbying from Hollywood to include anti-piracy legislation in larger budget bills. 

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) wants Congress to give the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to require use of anti-piracy software known as a broadcast flag in digital recorders and receivers.

But Public Knowledge, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America wrote lawmakers Monday urging them instead to study the anti-piracy issue more before attaching any remedy to larger legislation.

“There are lots of land mines. There are lots of things that can go wrong,” Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, said of a move to mandate the broadcast flag.

One criticism is that libraries and educators will have more difficulty using digital material under a broadcast flag. Critics are also wary of expanding the government’s regulatory powers over digital technologies.

Broadcast-flag technology would enable broadcasters and studios to designate, or flag, shows that could not be redistributed through the Internet or by other means.

In a 2003 ruling, the FCC mandated broadcast-flag use by July. In May, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the panel had overstepped its authority, moving MPAA to seek out Congress’s help.

One bill the MPAA is reportedly eyeing as a vehicle for broadcast flag is the budget-reconciliation package, which is likely to include revenue estimates from the sale of broadcast spectrum. Congress is mandating a move to digital from analog television.

Although passing the reconciliation package will be an uphill battle, it is attractive because it is not subject to a filibuster in the Senate. Other options include attaching broadcast flag to must-pass appropriations bills.

Dan Glickman, the head of the MPAA, said after the court’s ruling in May that without some anti-piracy protections studios and broadcasters limit distribution of their premium content to cable, satellite and other secure delivery systems rather than free, network stations.