Copyright protection debate engulfs digital TV

The proposal, set forth Tuesday by the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG), has drawn fire from civil liberties groups who say that it would restrict consumers from making and distributing legal copies of programs broadcast on digital TV. Additionally, opponents of the proposal claim that the standard would stifle technological innovation.

BPDG, which is part of the larger Copy Protection Technical Working Group (CPTWG), the organization that established the standard for the encryption of DVD movies, argues that digital TV recordings must be protected from being pirated online, lest they go the way of the oft-swapped MP3, a file format for storing compressed audio data.

The group’s proposal would require all digital TV manufacturers by law to include a technology that would encrypt the TV signal, preventing it from being recorded on the Internet. The encryption would allow the signal to be recorded on other home entertainment devices such as DVD recorders and set-top boxes, however.

But opponents argue that blocking digital TV signals’ access to the Internet unnecessary limits consumers’ fair use rights. What’s more, they fear the ramifications consumers could face if the proposal is adopted. Under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), anyone caught circumventing a copyright protection measure could face jail time.

“Our legislators decided long ago that, despite all the misery they cause, ordinary people can be trusted with handguns, knives, alcohol and explosives,” Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said in a statement. “But Hollywood says people should go to jail if they use a simple consumer device that lets them decide what they should do with the TV recordings they make.”

Nonprofit lobbying groups like the CCIA and Electronic Frontier Foundation are hoping that BPDG’s proposal will be shot down over concerns that consumers’ rights will be violated. But Congress has shown in the past that it is disposed to listen to Hollywood’s viewpoint when it comes to the issue of guarding copyright protected content online. It remains to be seen, however, whether legislators want to wind up in the middle of a debate similar to the one surrounding digital music with a nascent technology like digital TV.