By Peter Kaplan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday struck down a
Federal Communications Commission rule designed to limit people from
sending copies of digital television programs over the Internet.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the FCC
had "exceeded the scope of its delegated authority" with the 2003
rule, which would have required TV set manufacturers to start using
new anti-piracy technology by July 1.
"We can find nothing in the statute, its legislative history, the
applicable case law, or agency practice indicating that Congress meant
to provide the sweeping authority the FCC now claims over receiver
apparatus," the three-judge appeals court panel said in its opinion.
FCC officials have said copyright protections were needed to help
speed the adoption of digital television, which offers higher-quality
signals and broadcasters said they would ask Congress to step in to
address the matter.
The music industry has been plagued by consumers copying and sharing
songs for free over the Internet, violating copyright laws. Hollywood
wants to prevent similar problems with its programs as it rolls out
more digital content.
"Without a 'broadcast flag,' consumers may lose access to the very
best programming offered on local television," said National
Association of Broadcasters President Edward Fritts. "We will work
with Congress to authorize implementation of a broadcast flag..."
The FCC declined to comment.
The NBC Universal television network also argued the decision would
"Today's court ruling imposes crippling restraints on the FCC's
ability to effectively support the development of a safe, sustainable
marketplace for the creation and distribution of digital TV
broadcasting," said the network, a unit of General Electric Co.
Under the FCC rule, programers could attach a code, or flag, to
digital broadcasts that would, in most cases, bar consumers from
sending unauthorized copies over the Web.
The regulation required manufacturers of television sets that receive
digital over-the-air broadcast signals to produce sets that can read
the digital code. Consumers could record and copy shows but would have
been limited from sending them.
Opponents complained the rule could raise prices to consumers and
would set a bad precedent by allowing broadcasters to dictate how
computers and other devices should be built.
The ruling brought praise from the American Library Association and
other non-profits who brought the court challenge. They said the
broadcast flag rule "seriously undermined" educators rights to
distribute digital material.
"This is a big victory for consumers and libraries," the association's
Washington office director, Emily Sheketoff, said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, which
backed the restriction, was not immediately available for comment.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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