An appeals court yesterday tossed out rules requiring antipiracy technology in new digital television receivers and recorders to make it difficult for consumers to copy and distribute programs, saying the Federal Communications Commission had overstepped its authority.
The unanimous decision by three judges from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was a blow to major Hollywood studios and television networks that had been the driving force behind the regulation.
But it was welcomed by some consumer groups and technology advocates who argued that the rule gave the government too much power over computers, software, and other digital gear.
The studios and networks are expected to take their case to Congress. Getting the attention of lawmakers might be a challenge, given the other important piracy- and communications-related topics bubbling up in Washington. These include shutting off analog television broadcasts, revamping telecommunications regulation, and potentially trying to stop businesses that profit from piracy.
FCC officials declined to comment. At issue is the so-called Broadcast Flag, a system for deterring piracy that the FCC mandated in November 2003.
The FCC's order required televisions, video recorders, computers, and other devices that received or interpreted digital television signals to use government-approved antipiracy technology by July 2005. That technology would bar the devices from retransmitting a digital television show to the Internet or any other device that could not meet the FCC's antipiracy requirements.
Proponents argued that the rule would help protect high-definition television shows from being swapped online. Without this protection, they claimed, Hollywood studios and other copyright owners would be reluctant to let their most valuable programs be shown on free, over-the-air stations.
Dan Glickman, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, echoed these themes in a statement released yesterday.
''If the Broadcast Flag cannot be used, program providers will have to weigh whether the risk of theft is too great over free [local television] broadcasting and could limit such high-quality programming to only cable, satellite, and other more secure delivery systems," he said. ''We will continue working aggressively on all fronts to make sure consumers will have access to high-value content on broadcast television."
Opponents argued that the piracy threat was overstated, the flag system was easy to circumvent, and the regulations would interfere with some viewers' ability to enjoy digital television broadcasts when and where they wished.