31 August 2004

Broadcast Flag

New US regulations may restrict flexible use of digital broadcasts.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC: http://www.fcc.gov/) has recently mandated that from July 2005 digital television tuners must listen for and obey a "broadcast flag": a content protection system that will constrain the way a television program can be used. Producers or broadcasters may for example insist that their programs can't be recorded onto DVD, or rebroadcast around an IP network, and the flag will specify this. An Acrobat file of the FCC's original proposal can be downloaded from http://www.eff.org/IP/Video/HDTV/Final_Rule_FCC-03-273A1.pdf

Why is this relevant to us? The Australian Government has mandated that all television services are to be broadcast in both analogue and digital form from 1 January 2004 for a period of at least eight years, after which analogue licences will be revoked and television will be broadcast in digital form only. Under the terms of the recent Free Trade Agreement signed with the US, Australia is expected to comply with US law in relation to the treatment of intellectual property: this may mean Australia will also insist that the broadcast flag is complied with in all equipment sold in Australia. Commercial reality of tuner manufacturers might mean the devices sold here conform to US requirements anyway.

Under the terms of an agreement between the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee (AVCC: http://www.avcc.edu.au/) and Screenrights (http://www.screen.org/), the University pays Screenrights for copying broadcasts (radio, television, cable and satellite) under a statutory licence provided for in Part VA of the Copyright Act. The Digital Agenda Amendments to the Copyright Act, which came into force on 4 March 2001, allow the University to record, transmit, store and make available online broadcasts digitally.

The FCC recognises the rights educational institutions (among others) have to copying materials, and "will administer our flag rules and, in particular, our approval process of output content protection technologies and recording methods to foster the continued availability of content to consumers in accessible formats." (Federal Communications Commission, FCC 03-273, Washington DC, 4 November 2003, p9).

Meanwhile in Geneva the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO: http://www.wipo.int/copyright/en/index.html) is negotiating an international treaty to give broadcasters the right to control who may record, transmit, or distribute their signals. Again arrangements the University has in place through the AVCC and Screenrights should mean that we can continue to offer the distribution service proposed for the television and radio reticulation system currently being developed even if the WIPO proposal becomes a binding agreement in Australia.

The University should be aware of these issues when considering the impact of copyright on teaching.

[Update 17/5/2005] Broadcast Flag Lowered