- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

The major U.S. sports leagues have formed a rare union designed to stop piracy of games over digital broadcast television.
The NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA and Major League Baseball yesterday collectively filed a 27-page set of comments with the Federal Communications Commission asking for greater clarity and strength in federal copyright rules regarding digital TV.
The leagues feel that current statutes, originally written reflecting the existence of only analog TV, are insufficient to protect their signals from theft. Once digital TV becomes more commonplace all new TVs are required to have digital capability by 2006 the leagues fear easy piracy and retransmission.
"Professional and Collegiate sports submit that a robust and comprehensive system for inhibiting the unauthorized redistribution of digital broadcast television is an essential precondition to copyright owners making content available in a digital format, and thus, for creating a successful and swift DTV transition," the filing reads.
The filing is in response to a request from the commission for comment on possible new statutes for digital TV. Though the debate involves free, over-the-air television, each of the leagues has crafted eight- to 10-figure broadcast contracts for the precise distribution of its games. Many individual consumers also are following the discussions, seeking to ensure that traditionally permitted activities, such as home taping of games and shows for personal use, remain legal.
The FCC is considering a "broadcast flag" for digital TVs that would limit the copying of some programming. What the exact rules should be is what the commission is now seeking to determine. Most individual consumers who have filed comments to the FCC are angrily opposed to any notion of a broadcast flag. The sports leagues do not advocate a broad, restrictive broadcast flag that inhibits private time-shifting. But the leagues remain leery of theft of their content, or even short clips of it, for commercial use.
It is quite unusual for the sports leagues to make any joint public statement, particularly one that involves eight separate and competing organizations.
"I've been doing this a long time, and I can't remember getting such a large and diverse group [of leagues] together on a single issue," said District-based lawyer Phil Hochberg, who is representing all of the leagues except for MLB. "But with digital transmission, all bets are off. Pristine copies of the content can be easily reproduced and transmitted in a matter of moments all over the globe. The technology of analog transmission had built-in protections against that kind of activity, but with digital, those protections are gone."

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