August 6, 2004 · Tim Wu
The Broadcast Flag regime is, I think, something of an embarassment for the FCC. Many of the commissioners came to the FCC to deregulate telecommunications law, not to regulate the electronics industry. Yet they find themselves in mission creep mode, issuing command-and-control rules for the design of consumer products, surely prompting some to wonder what exactly they’re fighting for.
Evidence that the FCC’s heart isn’t really in this stuff comes from its approval this week of thirteen distribution technologies, without much fuss. It supports the sense that the Commission wants out.
Of greatest symbolic importance: Approval of Tivo’s TivoGuard system. That’s the technology behind the TivoToGo system, designed to let Tivo users swap shows they’ve recorded, within certain limits. The MPAA and NFL opposed it for the usual reasons – marginal threats to existing revenue streams. Classic rent-protection behavior, and supposedly what the new FCC exists to fight.
Others have said this before, but the FCC plays at copyright at its peril. As many know, the late 1960s was the last time the FCC played copyright cop, and it was perhaps the most embarassing episode in the history of the Commisison. Acting mainly on the advice of the Broadcast industry, the FCC did what it could to sabotage cable TV, in favor of the great technical wonder of UHF. The motto from the FCC’s own Vietnam should have been “never again.” Today, the FCC’s back in the pseudo-copyright game, and it should be looking for a graceful exit strategy.