Build Your TV!

The FCC has slapped an invasive rule on how TVs can be made, so some folks are making their own

| March 10, 2005

Come July, every high-definition television will be built with a 'Broadcast Flag' -- a device that allows stations to forbid your TiVo (or similar gadget) from making a copy of a program onto a DVD. It's a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation backed, not by Congress, but by the entertainment industry. In its never-ending quest to stop people from illegally distributing copyrighted material on the Internet, the industry has convinced the FCC to step on an individual's right to make a copy of a show for personal use.

So what's a Buffy the Vampire Slayer lover to do? The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stands ready with the answer: Build your own TV. The San Francisco-based group recently hosted a 'build-in' where, using the open-source software MythTV, people transformed their computers into televisions that skirt the flag.

But there are bigger worries than not getting to watch Buffy at will, writer Annalee Newitz warns. Built in to the regulation is the mandate that recording devices be 'robust against user modification.' That's bad news for the tech heads who started dissecting their TVs and radios at age 8. But it's also bad news for the rest of us, since innovation is often the result of those same tech heads tinkering at age 30.

There's also the bigger-picture concern about trampling the fair use of copyrighted material. And that fight takes more than a handful of people making their own TVs. So, EFF has joined groups like Public Knowledge and the American Library Association to fight the FCC in court, suggesting that hope may not be lost.
-- Hannah Lobel

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