Nope. It’s not what you think. One of these days, maybe, but
This is about something called the “broadcast flag,” a deceptively
innocuous-sounding thing that is Big Media’s latest attempt
to reach into your homes and control what you do. The concept
of the broadcast flag has been kicking around the FCC, the
courts, and Congress for a few years now, and it’s getting
hot right now.
What this is about is that Big Media would like to be able
to tag high-quality digital radio and television programs
with a marker that would trigger devices in your home receiver
to prevent home recording of the programs. Home recording
would be prevented because the music, movie, and television
industries would also control how radio and television receivers
are made and sold, to ensure that people can no longer get
the rather basic and currently readily available technology
that allows them to grab stuff off the air.
Insane, right? It’s in the air so you can grab it, right?
This is how it’s always been, right?
Well, of course. But this isn’t how the Big Media companies
see it. To them, it’s stealing, just like cassette recorders,
videocassette recorders, and Tivos were all burglars’ tools,
before the courts stepped in and decided they weren’t. But
every time a new technology comes along that allows the storage
or transfer of information, Big Media’s there to make sure
that it doesn’t become available without a fight. And this
time, Big Media not only is trying to block the public’s use
of new technologies: If this thing goes through, the public
will lose its historical right to use, reuse, copy and transfer
media programs that it has always been able to access off
of the airwaves. All we’ll be able to do is watch and listen
when the bosses say it’s OK to watch and listen.
A few years ago, Bush’s FCC—which, not surprisingly, sees
its role as making the world more comfortable for its corporate
overlords and protecting the American public from itself by
censoring what we can see and hear—ruled that all new television
sets be compatible with broadcast-flag protections. In other
words, all new TVs would be set up so you wouldn’t be able
to record much of what was on TV, and what you could record
you wouldn’t be able to copy or share. The movie and TV studios
told the FCC that without these controls they would withhold
most programming, and the FCC, like a good lapdog, bought
that ridiculous threat, and caved, passing regulations, with
the force of law, that would have mandated strict “content
control” on all televisions sold in the U.S.
Fortunately, the courts stepped in and ruled that the FCC
has absolutely no authority to control what people do with
programs once those programs are broadcast into people’s homes.
Undaunted, and like the relentless zombies in Night of
the Living Dead, the studios are now assaulting Congress
to achieve by legislation what they’ve already sleazed past
the FCC. It’s not clear whether Congress will pick this up
this year or next, but the Big Push is on, the legislation
is being written (by industry lawyers, of course), and the
discreet contributions to the right reelection campaigns and
PACs are being made. Expect a bill to be introduced soon,
along with a flurry of “studies” and planted “news reports”
uncovering the grim horror of people doing what they want
with movies and TV shows. It’s kind of funny; issues like
this aren’t really red-state/blue-state issues, but it always
seems to be Republicans who end up carrying the entertainment
industry’s water on stuff like this. Can’t imagine why that
would be. Ka-ching!
And the same thing is going on with digital radio. Soon, much
of the radio you hear, at least on new radios, will be based
on digital transmissions, which have begun being broadcast
throughout the country, and digital radio eventually will
completely replace the old AM-FM signals. The recording industry
is banging on the FCC to similarly outlaw recording features
that could easily be incorporated into digital radios, and
I’d imagine they’re probably going after Congress, too, given
the treatment that the FCC’s attempts to control television
received in the courts.
Of course, while the industry wants the recording functions
on your television and radio systems to be disabled, there
shouldn’t be a problem with TVs and radios having a big red
button on them that you can push whenever you want to buy
a copy of whatever’s playing at the moment.
That’s what this is all about. Big Media, studios, record
companies, and broadcasters have always hated, despised,
your ability to grab what’s out there and replay it, remix
it, move it around to your car, or share it with your friends.
And they are very, very keen on taking that right away from
you. And they will raise all of the usual arguments about
the financial incentive to create, the intellectual property
rights of creators, and the dark evil motives of millions
of normal people who (a) like music and TV, and (b) have access
to the . . . (insert frightening music here) . . . the Internet!
All of us are criminals, and our conduct needs correction.
But they can only do this, of course, if we let them do it.