May 18, 2022

Archives for August 2002

Misleading Term of the Week: "Broadcast Flag"

[This posting inaugurates a new feature. Each week I will dissect one widely used but misleading bit of terminology. See my previous posting on the term “piracy” for more on why terminology is important.]

This week’s misleading term is “broadcast flag,” which is used by Hollywood to refer to a wide-ranging ban on video technologies that they are proposing via the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG).

Technologists normally use the term “flag” to refer to a simple label that is attached to data to indicate some attribute of the data. A recipient of the data can use the flag as one factor in deciding what to do with the data, but most flags are strictly advisory and do not compel any action by the recipient. Such a flag is simple and nonrestrictive. Who could object to it?

Hollywood doesn’t need to ask for a true broadcast flag. The standards for digital television broadcasting already have a place for such a flag. No government action is needed to allow Hollywood to use a flag to indicate the broadcast status of a program.

Instead, they use the harmless-sounding term “broadcast flag” to refer to something else entirely. If you read Hollywood’s “broadcast flag” proposal, you’ll see that what they are really asking for is a draconian set of restrictions on video technology. Their proposal would even give them veto power over the development of new video technologies. Calling it a mere “flag” makes it sound simple and harmless. What a brilliant bit of misdirection!

What's Up At CNet?

Declan McCullagh interviews Verizon lawyer Sarah Deutsch, over at CNet (Welcome back, Declan.) Verizon is taking the side of their customers, against Hollywood.

But check out the headline: “Why telecoms fly the pirate flag” (on the front page) and “Why telecoms back the pirate cause” (on the article itself). The pirate flag? The pirate cause? There’s nothing in the article about backing “pirates”. It’s all about Verizon building their business by defending the interests of their law-abiding customers.

This is a classic example of a headline undermining the point of an article. Usually when that happens, it’s because the reporter wrote the article and an editor wrote the headline. Are CNet’s editors so biased that they think anyone who opposes Hollywood must be an apologist for “pirates”?

UPDATE (Sept. 3): has since changed the headline to the more balanced “Verizon’s copyright campaign.”

Lessig on Software Copyright

Larry Lessig defends his view of the best copyright law for software. Lessig advocates that (1) software copyrights expire after ten years (but a new version of a program would acquire a new copyright), and (2) source code be put in escrow, to be released when the copyright expires.

Whether you think the optimal term for software copyright is five years, or ten, or twenty, or something else, I think you have to agree that the current 95-year term for software is ridiculous. A sensible term would not last beyond the point where the author had extracted most or all of the available revenue from the work. Will Microsoft still be extracting revenue from the original version of Windows 95 in the year 2090? Of course not.