A little less than a year from now -- July 1, 2005 -- an FCC regulation known as the "broadcast flag" will lock up digital television signals. But the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Digital Television Liberation Project" aims to help the public keep over-the-air programming free.
The Broadcast Flag, which places copy controls on DTV signals, is aimed at stopping people from making digitally perfect copies of television shows and redistributing them. But it also stops people from making perfectly legitimate personal copies of broadcasts. More disturbing, says EFF, the broadcast flag regulations will outlaw the import and manufacture of a host of personal video recorders (PVRs), TiVo-like devices that send DTV signals into a computer for backup, editing, and playback.
Once the FCC's broadcast flag rules go into effect, all PVR technologies must be flag-compliant and "robust" against user modification. EFF describes this as a case of "the entertainment industry trying to tell you what you can do with your own machines."
EFF advises that it's not too late for consumers to get their hands on broadcast flag-resistant PVRs. For the next year, DTV tuners can still be manufactured that make digitally perfect recordings of broadcasts. These tuners will continue to work even after the FCC's regulation takes effect. To help people get these endangered devices before it's too late, EFF has launched the "Digital Television Liberation Project." The Project aims to create a "cookbook" that teaches technically minded (and not-so-technically minded) people how they can whip up their own fully capable DTV devices. "We want to open the high-definition revolution to everyone, preserving the abilities to time shift and manipulate media that we've come to expect," said Wendy Seltzer, EFF staff attorney and leader of the DTV Liberation Project.
The DTV Liberation Project will use these PC-based PVRs as benchmarks, comparing the capabilities of the general-purpose computer to the limited subset of viewing options broadcast flag-compliant devices can offer. "When people see how many more features today's PVR has than next year's, we think they'll be as puzzled as we are by the FCC's choices to 'advance the DTV transition'," Seltzer said.
The Project, which is currently seeking donations of hardware, money, and volunteers to help develop the cookbook, has already built an HD-PVR using MythTV's free software package. Seltzer will be demonstrating that machine at the DefCon conference in late July. To learn more about EFF's Digital Television Liberation Project, go to www.eff.org/broadcastflag.