Underlying Motivations in the Broadcast Flag Debate
24 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012
Date Written: September 1, 2003
As the rollout of digital television progresses, content owners have expressed great concern for the security of their intellectual property if released unfettered across the airwaves in high definition digital form. The proposed solution, the broadcast flag, is to be attached to a digital broadcast signal, and would control to how the content could be used: to which devices it could be sent and how many times it could be copied. The content industry, led by MPAA, claims that this scheme will protect their content and, if it is implemented into the DTV infrastructure, they will freely release their content. Implementation requires the support of a variety of other actors, many of whom claims to support the flag as well. This paper posits that the probable benefits to many of these actors are distinct from their stated goals of supporting the technologically-embedded policy.
After a brief description of what the broadcast flag and its history, we assess its utility as a policy tool. Since digital rights management problems in many ways resemble traditional information security issues, we posit that the formal threat model analysis of systems security is particularly useful in testing the robustness of a given system against a range of attacks. The efficacy of the flag is thus tested with a threat model analysis in the context of several digital rights management goals. We find that, while the flag would not successfully keep content off the Internet, it might offer content providers several other concrete benefits in controlling their content, including blocking heretofore popular consumer behaviors and shifting the balance of content control towards the copyright holder.
Having established a likely set of outcomes that would benefit the content holders, we turn our attention to the full range of players involved in the drafting and implementation of the broadcast flag proposal, a group that includes consumer electronics companies, broadcasters, the major television networks, consumer groups, cable providers, the FCC, and Congress. A cost-benefit analysis helps unpack the motivations and incentives each player has for supporting or opposing the flag. Many reports help demonstrate that the flag will be expensive to fully implement across society, yet there is little evidence that this cost will be primarily borne by any of the major proponents. We then compare our analysis with the public statements by each of the players regarding the flag, to evaluate the sincerity of their claims and affirm our analysis. Ultimately, it appears that the underlying motivations of key players in the broadcast flag debate are quite different from the stated goals of the broadcast flag, and relate far more to establishment of DTV in general than digital content protection.
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