Ernest Miller at CopyFight has an interesting response to my discussion yesterday of the Broadcast Flag. I wrote that the Flag is bad regulation, being poorly targeted at the goal of protecting TV broadcasts from Internet redistribution. Ernie replies that the Flag is actually well-targeted regulation, but for a different purpose:
[Y]ou’d have to be an idiot to think that the broadcast flag would prevent HDTV content from making it onto the internet. Since I don’t believe that the commissioners are that stupid, I can only conclude that the FCC is acting quite cynically in support of an important constituency of theirs, the broadcasters *cough*regulatorycapture*cough*.
In other words, the purported purpose of the broadcast flag (to prevent HDTV from getting onto the internet) is not the real purpose of the broadcast flag, which appears to be to give content providers more control over the average citizen’s ability to make use of media.
Ernie’s theory, that the movie industry and the FCC are using “content protection” as a smokescreen to further a secret agenda of controlling media technology, fits the facts pretty well. And quite a few experienced lobbyists seem to believe it. Still, I don’t think it’s right to argue against the Broadcast Flag on that basis.
First, even if you believe the theory, it’s often a useful debating tactic to pretend that the other side actually believes what they say they believe. It’s hard to prove that someone is lying about their own beliefs and motivations; it can be much easier to prove that their asserted beliefs don’t justify their conclusions. And proving that the official rationale for the Flag is wrong would do some good.
Second, if Ernie’s theory is right, the fix is in and there’s not much we can do about future Broadcast Flag type regulation. If we want to change things, we might as well act on the assumption that it matters whether the official rationale for the Flag is right.
And finally, I am convinced that at least some people in the movie industry, and at least some people at the FCC, actually believe the official rationale. I think this because of what these people say in private, after a few (literal or metaphorical) beers, and because of how they react when the official rationale for the Flag is challenged. Even in private, industry or FCC people often react to criticism of the official rationale with real passion and not just with platitudes. Either these (non-PR) people are extraordinarily good at staying on-message, or they really believe (as individuals) what they are saying.
So although Ernie’s theory is very plausible, I will dare to be na