The Broadcast Flag: It's Not Just TV

7 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2005

See all articles by Wendy Seltzer

Wendy Seltzer

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; W3C / MIT

Date Written: October 2005


The Broadcast Flag was an FCC Rule adopted in late 2003 to restrict "indiscriminate Internet redistribution" of television programs by limiting the capabilities of digital television tuners. While it would not have stopped television piracy, the Rule would have sharply limited independent and open-source development of home media technology with features like TiVo's "pause live TV." I argue that technology mandates must be assessed not only by their effectiveness against the problem they are designed to address, but also by their collateral effects on technology development and end-user innovation. Measured against this wider circle of effects, the Broadcast Flag Rule would hurt far more than it helped. [Since this piece was published, the Broadcast Flag Rule was struck down by the D.C. Circuit on the grounds that the FCC lacked jurisdiction to regulate signals once received. As of late 2005, Congress is being lobbied to re-enact the Flag rule or to give the FCC the power to do so.]

Keywords: FCC, broadcast flag, technology mandate, digital television, open-source

JEL Classification: K23, K39

Suggested Citation

Seltzer, Wendy, The Broadcast Flag: It's Not Just TV (October 2005). Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2005-06, Available at SSRN: or

Wendy Seltzer (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
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Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

W3C / MIT ( email )

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