An ugly new piece of broadcast flag legislation will be discussed by the Senate Commerce Committee today, and it carries the potential of sending digital media to an early grave. The Digital Content Protection Act (DCPA) would make it illegal and/or impossible for you to record anything broadcast on digital or satellite radio or TV by allowing the FCC to require copy-protection flags on all new consumer electronics. And we're not just talking digital radio or TV receivers anymore: there's a loophole in the text that would allow the FCC to mandate that these flags be placed in any device that might come into contact with radios or TVs (that means DVD players, MP3 players, computers, cell phones, etc).
You can bet that the RIAA and MPAA are throwing all sorts of money at this effort to dispose of that nasty "fair use" caveat in copyright law. You know, the one that allows us regular folks to record a program and listen to it later (time-shifting), to use part of a program as a teaching tool in the classroom, or to provide a critique of the work. Instead of embracing digital media as a new sales market, these thugs would rather get their money by slipping in uber-restrictive laws to control how we use media, screwing up our personal electronic devices, and by suing our asses one by one. For more info on the industry's interpretation of customer service, check out Kenzo's guide to the Sony DRM debacle.
Read the DCPA proposal here (PDF), and then check out this excellent analysis of its implications. If that got you riled up, visit the EFF's action page (here you can send a letter in opposition of the DCPA, if your state happens to have a senator on the committee: AK, AZ, AR, CA, FL, HI, LA, MA, ME, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, ND, OR, SC, TX, VA, WA, WV). And there is a glimmer of hope: the last time this broadcast flag issue wiggled past the FCC decisionmakers, the EFF/PK's subsequent lawsuit was instrumental in the courts overturning the decision. Links via Boing Boing
UPDATE: Alex kindly points us toward PK's wrap-up of the hearing, along with the official statement PK submitted to the Senate Commerce Committee. The RIAA's fear of technology and understanding of digital media really lights up when you read this quote from another article covering the hearing:
Mitch Bainwol, head of the RIAA, told the Senate that the issue is "not casual recording by listeners. It is not taping off the radio like we used to do. We are talking about allowing broadcast programs to be automatically captured and then disaggregated, song by song, into a massive library of music."
... yeah, a massive library of low-quality sounding music. Anyone who is capable of bothering with song-capture technology would probably rather just buy a CD: the bit-rate for the new HD radio is a pathetic 64 k in the main channel and 32 k in the side channel (though this isn't entirely comparable to MP3 bit-rates, mark Station Manager Ken's words... the sound quality will be far worse than analog FM).
On a positive note, one of the broadcast flag's main champion, Senator Ted Stevens, seemed crestfallen upon learning that he wouldn't be able to record a song off the radio and copy it to his iPod.