Wednesday, October 06, 2004

MPA Recommends European Broadcast Flag

The comments to the Final Report of the European Commission's High Level Working Group on Digital Rights Management (HLG) have been released. The HLG's line up is essentially all industry players, with the lonely exception of the BEUC, the European Consumers organisation. The BEUC's response is fairly critical, as could be expected, since its voice was hardly heard during the meetings nor reflected in the Final Report.

There's an overload of views, so pick for yourself. Some of the Motion Picture Association's (MPA) thoughts are too interesting not to share here, however. First its view of how far the role of DRM may go: "The role of DRM could even extend to facilitating the accommodation of certain copyright exceptions under the right conditions." [p.2, italics added]

So, as far as the MPA goes DRMs may even bring information users a conditional facilitation of exemptions (e.g. private copying, quotation) until now already enjoyed without DRMs. May bring, because there are conditions, and there comes the juice: a European Broadcast Flag scheme.

In the "Conclusions and Recommendations" section the MPA states:
"[T]he security environment needs to improve. This can be accomplished through:
  • Improved software tamper resistance techniques
  • A hardware "root of trust" and a trusted computing environment within the PC
  • Transition from unprotected analog to protected digital computer monitor interconnects
  • Secure home networking to provide interoperability to Consumer Electronics (CE) devices and local content management. DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting -RL) work on the Content Protection and Copy Management system should therefore be supported.
  • A solution to the "Analog Hole" (see below) "
And there it comes:
"Appropriate measures must be taken to address in particular the (1) unauthorized retransmission of unencrypted digital signals and (2) conversion of protected digital signals to analogue format and back to digital with the result that any content protection enjoyed in the digital space is effectively removed (referred to above as the analogue hole or analogue re-conversion)."
In the original these last recommendations are printed in bold, as if it is not clear what the MPA is talking about:
"Both these gaps in protection are contributing to the severe problem of illicit file sharing of audio-visual works occurring on peer-to-peer file sharing networks. [...] public intervention may be eminently necessary, either to provide for the compliance with any agreed standards addressing content protection or to address the absence of an agreement on any standards at all (i.e. market failure)."
What we got here is failure to communicate: call it by its name, please. The MPA steers for an European Broadcast Flag. A technical protection measure implemented in the hardware of user devices, the PC, included, and publicly mandated if the market fails to provide one.

Interestingly enough today the news broke that nine public interest organisations have questioned the authority of the American public media regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, "to regulate digital TV sets and other digital devices unless specifically instructed to do so by Congress." (Link to court case information). In how far the MPA's push will find a more than listening ear remains to be seen, and an eventual implementation on a European level is for a far more distant future. But now the seeds haven been sown it may only be a question of time before the broadcast flag takes root in European soil.


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