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FCC Approves Broadcast Flag Systems

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently approved 13 digital content protection technologies for use under its “broadcast flag order” to restrict the redistribution of content originally transmitted over-the-air by digital television stations.

The 13 systems were classified under three protection approaches as they apply to the broadcast flag order issued by the FCC last November. The approvals only cover each system’s suitability in protecting digital TV content as a part of the distribution control system established in the FCC’s November order.

The broadcast flag is a digital code that can be embedded into a digital broadcasting stream and signals DTV reception equipment to prevent indiscriminate redistribution of digital broadcast content over the Internet. Rules adopted by the commission in 2003 require all DTV devices to incorporate FCC-approved “broadcast flag” technologies by July 1, 2005.

The commission also clarified the status of the certifications by saying they will remain in place unless the technology or its license terms have been altered. Some content producers had worried about language in the original order, saying the approvals could be changed at a future date.

To safeguard against changes in capability in each application, the FCC said its approvals of all 13 systems must also be made on a transport-by-transport and media-by-media basis.

The 13 systems, most of which are well-known for other applications, fall into the following three classifications:

  • Output protection — DTCP (aka “5C”), HDCP and TiVoGuard.
  • Recording methods — CPRM (aka “4C”), D-VHS, VCPS (formerly Vidi) and four versions of MagicGate.
  • Digital rights management (DRM) — Windows Media, Helix and SmartRight.

The approved output protection methods include the Digital Transmission Content Protection (DTCP) system which was developed by five companies — Sony, Matsushita, Intel, Toshiba and Hitachi — to protect copyrighted digital content fed over IEEE-1394 connections. It was later extended for use over other connections and Internet protocols for use in both wired and wireless networks.

High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) was developed by Intel for use with wired DVI and HDMI connections for uncompressed digital video.

TiVoGuard was developed by TiVo as a security system that allows content to be relayed between a limited number of registered TiVo DVRs.

The approved recording methods include the Content Protection Recordable Media (CPRM) system for video content, which was developed by four companies — IBM, Intel, Matsushita and Toshiba. This encryption-based technology can be used to record standard-definition sources on various forms of removable media, including DVD and Flash Memory cartridges.

The Video Content Protection System (VCPS) was jointly developed by Philips and Hewlett-Packard and was formerly called Vidi. It is also encryption-based and allows consumers to record DTV broadcasts to DVD+R, DVD+RW and double-layer DVD+R optical discs.

The four versions of MagicGate Type R approved by the FCC were developed by Sony. The technology uses both hardware and software to protect content being recorded to Sony’s Memory Stick Pro and Hi-MD memory formats.

D-VHS was developed by JVC as a tape-based video recording system for both standard-definition and high-definition content. In the recording process, D-VHS scrambles content.

Covered digital-rights-management systems are all end-to-end solutions. Microsoft’s Windows Media Digital Rights Management (WMDRM) can be applied to protect a wide variety of audio and video content as both an output control and a recording control.

The Helix DRM was developed by RealNetworks to protect a wide range of audio and video content across multiple platforms.

The SmartRight system was developed by Thomson and members of the SmartRight Association, which included content owners, to prevent unauthorized, indiscriminate Internet redistribution of marked digital broadcast content. The system creates a personal private network in the home to thwart piracy and is smart card-based for easy renewability.