Last month I had an idea to create a shop where you could buy Broadcast Flag-free PC products, which are set to be gone by July 1, 2005. I was even going to stockpile equipment so I could continue to sell it after the fact. I never got around to building the site before July 1st of this year (I wanted to start it exactly one year before the deadline), but the fine folks at the EFF kicked off their one year clock and site on the Broadcast Flag. I helped them craft the message for the page and they'll be bulking it up soon with links to products you can buy, info on why it's a big deal, and steps you can take to enjoy more PVR functionality before July 1, 2005. One of the features of my Broadcast Flagless site idea was to do a countdown clock, which the EFF has, and I'll be adding to this site as well soon.
This gist of it is this: After July 1, 2005, every PC HDTV card, computer PVR software, and home theater based HDTV recorder (like the HD DirecTiVo unit) will be aware of the Broadcast Flag and prevent you from moving recordings off your boxes. They'll be especially harsh on computer based stuff, since pretty much every computer is connected to the internet these days and the Flag is supposed to suppress the ability to trade shows online.
So what will the pirates do? They'll likely do what anyone would do if hit with prohibition at a certain date: they'll simply use equipment created before the date and do what they do, recording programs and releasing them online.
What will typical home users do? They'll likely buy products not knowing that the Broadcast Flag limits what they can do, record programs, then eventually find out they can't use video streaming or sharing features that products like SnapStream and Windows Media Center Edition will have for HDTV signals.
Will it stop the trading of TV shows online? Unlikely. Will it annoy honest folks that pay for top quality entertainment and products? Most likely.
The worst part of all this is that thanks to the DMCA, it'll be illegal to hack your own Broadcast Flag drivers into a system, meaning that Linux-based PVR software like MythTV may not be able to record protected HDTV content after next year. Any software that removes or disables Broadcast Flag limitations will definitely be illegal, but get this, any hardware built before July 1, 2005 that isn't Broadcast Flag aware can be legally sold after the date. So if you stock up on a case of new HDTV cards for your PC, you'll be able to legally enjoy your black market profits next year.
Personally, my biggest worry is that like every other protection the movie industry has created for themselves, the rules will be abused to eventually benefit companies while customers suffer. Look at region encoding thing that all DVDs have. DVDs are set to play only in certain parts of the world and most DVD players can only play discs from their own area. I remember when the idea was first proposed and the movie industry promised that it wasn't going to be used to price fix or prevent material from being available in certain regions, but today we find that most customers in regions with more expensive DVDs use region-free DVD players and just import the cheap DVDs. Also as any fan of British TV in America knows, you can buy a lot of DVDs at Amazon.co.uk you can't purchase at Amazon.com, sometimes including even an Amercian TV series (the Family Guy DVDs were availabe in the UK for almost a year before they were released here). The Digital Millenium Copyright Act was supposed to just prevent cracking of copyright code for software and hardware used by computers and entertainment devices, but today we have printer companies and cell phone companies suing small companies that produce cheaper ink cartridges and replacement batteries, and we have authors that can't write books on hacking movie players into video game systems and even PVRs (there's a reason why there are no books on hacking Series 2 TiVos).
Once the Broadcast Flag is out there in hardware and software, and all HDTV signals are coming down with it enabled, what's going to happen a couple years from now when Hollywood gets nervous about their bottom line? Will the Broadcast Flag only prevent moving a captured show file from one PC to another or will you suddenly be limited on how many times you can play something back or burn it to a DVD? And why are PBS signals being encrypted with the Broadcast Flag after July 1, 2005? Isn't it the public broadcasting system, i.e., the one we give tons of federal money to and is free to all markets? Will a teacher be able to record shows from HDTV PBS signal and bring those into a classrom? I certainly hope so.
As an act of protest, and a way to test the HDTV waters, I'm going to buy an HDTV card soon for my PC at home. I'll get to dip my toe into the complex world of HDTV content, and I'll have something that will likely be valuable after a year goes by.