These are the media news headlines as read on the Feb. 25 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Court Questions FCC’s Broadcast Flag Rules; Grokster goes to Warshington; Groups Advocate Community Networks; McCain Targets TV Ownership Loopholes; Clear Channel Indie Station Threatened by New Ownership Rule; Broadcasters To Challenge Indecency Rules.
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COURT QUESTIONS FCC’S BROADCAST FLAG RULES
On Feb. 22 a federal appeals court sharply questioned whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to force electronics makers to implement digital rights management controls in devices that can receive digital TV signals. This rule requiring this so-called broadcast flag is intended to go into effect this July.
Two of the three judges on the District of Columbia Circuit Court said the FCC never received permission from Congress to undertake such a sweeping regulation. The broadcast flag was encouraged by the entertainment industry and broadcasters and is intended to encourage the purchase of digital TV receivers that curb Internet distribution of digital television broadcasts.
Judge Harry Edwards questioned FCC lawyers, asking, “You’re out there in the whole world, regulating. Are washing machines next?” Judge David Sentelle remarked, “You can’t regulate washing machines. You can’t rule the world.”
If implemented, the broadcast flag rule requires every product that can receive digital TV signals, including televisions, VCRs and computer peripherals, to be able to lock out copying and other uses of program content based upon instructions from broadcasters that are embedded in the digital TV signal.
The groups challenging the FCC’s broadcast flag regulation include the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association, Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They argue that the FCC exceeded its authority, that Congress should be responsible for making copyright law, and that librarians’ ability to make “fair use” of digital broadcasts will be unreasonably curtailed.
Grokster goes to Warshington
Industry copyright enthusiasts such as the RIAA and MPAA have once again
mounted a large legal campaign against filesharing technology, this time
its the P2P client Grokster. The Supreme court has accepted the case of
MGM v. Grokster and will hear arguments in March on whether to pull its
plug or not. This could seal the fate of peer to peer technology to being
federally prohibited, a new encroachment of federalism on internet
Listeners are probably familiar with the fate of Napster, a similar piece
of software. In the case of A&M Records v. Napster, the 9th circuit court
of appeals ruled that Napster must cease and desist operations because of
its use as an aid to illegal sharing of copyrighted material. Thus any
piece of software that uses Napster-style sharing is illegal. What has
saved other sharing utilities like BitTorrent, KaZaa, eMule, Bearshare,
and now Grokster is that the list of shared files is stored on the
network, and not on a central server as in the case of Napster.
Decentralized networks are a foundation of the way the internet works.
Aside from a few ground rules in place to help computers find each other,
the internet at its core is a completely open communications system. Once
a part of the network, any computer can connect to any other and access
whatever each administrator chooses to share. Technologies like peer to
peer clients simply make it easier for users to seek out and obtain
specific types of data, in this case music, video, and other software. A
federal mandate of banning this technology could have profound effects on
the scope of future internet regulations, especially as it relates to how
media are transferred
The RIAA and MPAA are behind MGM in its pursuit of this technology for
Groups Advocate Community Networks
Sixty national, state and local organizations, led by the media reform groups Free Press and the Media Access project, released an open letter on Feb. 22 in support of allowing municipalities and other public entities to deploy broadband internet systems. The letter was made public at a Senate briefing.
The letter opposes the campaign by incumbent telephone and cable providers to push legislation through numerous state legislatures that would either ban or make it more difficult for municipalities to deploy broadband systems.
As reported on last weeks edition of mediageek, Illinois is one of the states where the legislature is considering a bill to keep the state and its municipalities from offering any sort of telecommunications service, including wired or wireless broadband internet.
Local governments, municipal utilities and community media outlets from 19 states and the District of Columbia also endorsed the letter.
In addition, the letter is signed by a number of the nation’s most innovative community networking projects, such as the Austin Wireless City Project; the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network; Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology; and NYC Wireless.
McCain Targets TV Ownership Loopholes
Senator John McCain has introduced a bill into Congress that he hopes would close some loopholes in television ownership regulation. McCains bill takes aim at the renewal of local TV licenses and the dual ownership of newspapers and TV stations in the same market.
At a Feb. 15 press conference, McCain cited a recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications which found that local TV news spent more time on sports and weather than on local political races during the 2004 campaign season.
McCain connected this poor performance to concentrated non-local ownership. He told the press, ”There is no doubt that locally owned television stations produce more local news. Media consolidation plays into this.”
If passed, McCains bill would require TV stations to renew their licenses every three years, instead of the current eight. The bill would also require the FCC to review the performance of all a companys stations, not just the one up for renewal.
Broadcast station owners such as Tribune Co. have relied upon the long renewal term to buy newspapers in markets where they own TV stations, in apparent violation of FCC rules. These media companies are not at risk of violating the cross-ownership provision until their license is up for examination, and so they are able to violate cross-ownership rules for up to seven years before suffering FCC action.
McCains bill is called the “Localism in Broadcasting Reform Act of 2005, and he hopes the Senate Commerce Committee will hold hearings on it this Spring.
Clear Channel Indie Station Threatened by New Ownership Rule
And recent changes to radio ownership rules may threaten a popular Clear Channel station in Los Angeles. The station is called Indie 103.1, which garnered Rolling Stone magazines honor as Americas coolest commercial station for eschewing the typical tightly-playlisted rock radio format in favor of a looser approach more typical of college and the freeform radio of years past.
Indie 103.1 is owned by Entravision Communications Corp., a Santa Monica-based Spanish-language media company. But it went on the air 14 months ago under a so-called joint sales agreement with Clear Channel, the largest radio station operator in the U.S. and the owner of eight stations in the L.A. market.
Revised Federal Communications Commission regulations redefine joint sales agreements in such a way that Indie 103.1 constitutes Clear Channels ninth station in the LA area, and federal media rules bar any company from owning more than eight.
Clear Channels regional vice president in Los Angeles said the company would walk away from the partnership April 1. Its unclear whether Entravision will continue the format without the business benefits of the arrangement with Clear Channel, which used its clout to line up advertisers for the station.
Clear Channel used many of the market-dominating techniques it innovated to bolster the stations ad revenue. Clear Channels advertising staff sold time on Indie 103.1 at rates lower than those offered by the regions dominant rock station and also bundled ads with its other area stations.
Broadcasters To Challenge Indecency Rules
According to a story published in the Los Angeles Times this week, broadcasters are expected to bring suit against the FCC later this Spring in an effort to force the agency to clarify indecency rules.
The push to bring a new legal challenge comes as Congress is seeking to boost indecency penalties at least tenfold to as much as $500,000 an incident. It also coincides with a pending change in leadership at the FCC, where Republican Kevin Martin, considered tough on indecency, is the leading candidate to replace Chairman Michael K. Powell, who is stepping down.
Broadcasters haven’t brought a major indecency case since 1978, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s authority to issue indecency fines. That case centered on Pacifica radio station WBAI in New York airing in 1973 of comedian George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine. The high courts ruling also established what is known as the Free Harbor period of 10 PM to 6 AM wherein broadcasters are permitted to air indecent programming.
The Courts logic in upholding the FCCs ability to enforce indecency rules was that it was in the public interest to reduce the likelihood of children accidentally being exposed to indecent material. However, the Court established the Free Harbor because it believed an outright ban of indecency to be unconstitutional.