US Court throws out enforced content protection

A US Appeals Court has overturned a bid by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to force electronics companies to make products that recognise content protection technology and render existing non-compliant products illegal.

The FCC was pushing its Broadcast Flag legislation to make it mandatory that televisions, set-top boxes and essentially anything able to utilise high definition television signals should be compliant with protection technologies that dictate how that content is viewed, copied and saved.

However, the Appeals court has found that the FCC was going beyond its remit in its zealous campaign, and sided with concerns of associations opposing the Broadcast Flag rule, which included numerous US consumer and library organisations.

Judges has previously indicated that they would take this route: two of the three judges of District of Columbia Circuit panel announced in February that the FFC was overstepping the mark with the Broadcast Flag.

‘This case is a great win for consumers and for technology innovation. It’s about more than simply broadcasting. It is about how far the FCC can go in its regulations without permission from Congress,’ said Gigi Sohn, President of Public Knowledge one of the associations making the complaint. ‘Had the flag been implemented, Hollywood, acting through the FCC, would have been able to dictate the pace of technology in consumer electronics. Now, thankfully, that won’t happen.’

‘While we recognize that the content industries may ask Congress to overturn this ruling, we also recognize that Congress will have to think very hard before it puts restrictions on how constituents use their televisions,’ he added.

But there’s the rub. A victory it may be, but the Appeals court didn’t decide that the Broadcast Flag rule was wrong: simply that the FFC wasn’t the body to bring it about – at least not without full backing from Congress. But campaign groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will be watching Hollywood likes hawks to see how they spring their next line of attack.

Nevertheless, Jason Schultz, staff attorney at the EFF said the victory remains significant.

‘Hollywood wants us to remain passive in the wake of technological evolution so they can lock-down content and retain control over our viewing experiences. Decisions like this, however, keep us free to customize our experience as we like,’ he said. ‘Hollywood will try to revive the Flag in Congress, asking to break our televisions and our Tivos for the sake of corporate control over our culture. But the battle at the FCC is over for now.’

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