HRRC Weighs in with FCC

The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) supports the interests of all home theater fans—especially those early adopters who bought high-def displays prior to proposals to insert "broadcast flags" in data streams to prevent unauthorized recording of copyrighted material. Such flags are part of last year's so-called "plug'n'play" agreement between equipment makers and cable providers.

On February 13, the Arlington, VA–based organization submitted response filings in two Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rulemaking proceedings related to the digital television (DTV) transition. In the responses, the HRRC called for a permanent ban on down-resolution of high-def signals, and the preservation of consumers' customary home recording and fair use rights, which could be compromised by the adaptation of broadcast flags in digital programming.

In objecting to the move toward down-resolution, the HRRC explained that there are no devices available to consumers to provide "non-downres'd" signals to the almost six million owners of high-definition television (HDTV) and enhanced definition (EDTV) displays. FCC approval of a "downres trigger" on non-broadcast programming would disenfranchise all of these consumers, the HRRC argued, noting that most HDTV products purchased today have secure digital interfaces, such as DVI, HDMI, and 1394.

Furthermore, the HRRC asserted that actions already taken by the FCC, including the DTV tuner mandate and digital cable ready (DCR) provisions, ensure future products will be outfitted with digital interfaces. Down-resing defeats programmers' intent to keep HD material from Internet distribution, according to the HRRC filing, but actually enables it. "By cutting the signal down to one-quarter its transmitted size, 'downres' effectively compresses the signal for redistribution," the group claimed. "This work undermines a core precept of downresolution—that there is no copy protection alternative to punishing innocent consumers for their early investment in HDTV."

The HRRC stressed the importance of balancing the rights and expectations of consumers with the core needs of content providers, noting that consumers will invest in new "secure" technology only if it operates predictably and meets their reasonable expectations. Existing products—specifically, early generation HD displays—"should not be revoked or retired for failing to maintain a standard they were never designed to meet," said the HRRC.