Money talks—flag this!

Posted: 10.24.05
Upton listens.

In a classic example of getting the best politicians money can buy, the brilliant U.S. Congress is once again demonstrating its disregard for logic or majority view and responding to special interest groups.

Twenty representatives, including many members of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, have written Subcommittee Chairmen Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) backing reinstatement of the broadcast flag.

Driven by lobby money from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the must-get-elected-at-any-cost politicians are going to try to whittle out a way to exploit the hole the federal court left when it struck down the FCC's attempt to suck up to the RIA and MPAA and said all new TVs had to have the flag installed. In a 3-0 ruling in May, a federal appeals court rejected the FCC's regulations adopting the broadcast flag. But the ruling was a limited one; the judges said that though the FCC lacked the authority to outlaw TV -tuners, Congress could choose to enact a law allowing it.

Glickman warns.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the MPAA is trying to sneak broadcast flag legislation through Congress again, this time as an amendment to a budget reconciliation bill.

Chest-thumping protector of Holly-wood producers Ed Markey said, "Program producers will naturally be reluctant to license their high-value programs for digital distribution without protection from widespread acts of infringement over the Internet," in a letter sent to Upton, chairman of the House of Representatives panel on Internet and commerce. Thursday's letter from Rep. Charles Pickering, R-Miss., and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., shows that the MPAA and RIAA have gotten bi-partisan money-grubbing support; it was signed by 12 Republicans and eight Democrats.

When the MPAA tried a similar move in June—tacking the broadcast flag on to appropriations legislation—they failed once the word got out about what it was they were trying to accomplish. The flag was mandated by the FCC in 2003, saying it was "needed" to speed the adoption of digital TV. Strange, isn't it, that adoption of digital TV seems to be doing just fine without the flag. There's that damn annoying logic stuff again.

There's the possibility that the proposal could be attached to the bill funding the Federal Communications Commission through 2006, for instance, which is still before a conference committee.

But now the U.S. government is also going to launch a bunch of spending programs in the name of the victims of the hurricanes in the Southeast. And in pure pork-barrel fashion, whenever there is a funding bill on the horizon, all the dead old cats get drug out and stapled to it. We'd be damn hard-pressed to figure out how the broadcast flag has anything to do with Katrina/Rita relief, homeland security, or faith-based charity, but you can count on a parcel of money-grubbing congressmen coming up with a rationalization.

What's driving the MPAA to dump our box office payments into the pockets of the politicians is Hollywood's fear of being Napsterized. Hollywood saw what the creaking and decrepit music industry went through and said, NIMBY—not in my back yard.

Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that has sued to yank down the FCC's broadcast flag, said in an emailed response to the letter, "The broadcast flag legislation would give the Federal Communications Commission control over virtually any technology, from set-top boxes to computer software" Counter to that, the head of the MPAA, Dan Glickman, wrote (in May), "The broadcast flag does not inhibit copying, nor does it prevent redistribution of programming over a personal home network—it only restricts unauthorized redistribution of programming over the Internet and other digital networks."

Ah-huh, and that would leave . . . ?

So sleep well tonight, fellow sheep, for the protectors of our safety and well-being are doing their part to collect the money needed to bring us exactly what we deserve. We did elect them, after all.