A US appeals court on Friday struck down a regulation requiring makers of television sets to be equipped with technology to prevent unauthorized copying and distribution of digital broadcasts.
The rule would have required new TV sets designed for digital broadcasts to have anti-copy technology to prevent consumers from making copies and transmitting the broadcasts via the Internet.
In a case pitting the entertainment industry against a coalition of others supporting free use of technology, the US Court of Appeals in Washington said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had no authority to implement such a rule.
"In the seven decades of its existence, the FCC has never before asserted such sweeping authority," Judge Harry Edwards wrote for the court. "In our view, nothing has changed to give the FCC the authority that it now claims."
Digital television broadcasts are set to replace analog transmissions in the US in December next year.
The appeals court overturned the FCC decision, which would have required products manufactured after July 1 to recognize a so-called "broadcast flag" that could limit copying.
The American Library Association led a coalition of plaintiffs claiming the rule was an infringement on consumers and technological innovation.
Ed Black, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said the "broadcast flag" rule proposed by the FCC was another effort by Hollywood and the entertainment industry to gain control of technology and prevent copying.
The case has many similarities to the court battle over Internet file-sharing of music and films via peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, in which the entertainment industry is attempting to restrict new technology, Black said.
He said the FCC rule was "another unfortunate attempt to regulate the free flow of information and content throughout society."
"Instead of embracing and creatively using the Internet, too many content providers have tried -- and failed -- to fence it in with clumsy measures such as these," Black added.
But Dan Glickman, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), called the ruling disappointing and said it would hinder the development of digital broadcasting.
"If the `broadcast flag' cannot be used, program providers will have to weigh whether the risk of theft is too great over free, off-air broadcasting and could limit such high quality programming to only cable, satellite and other more secure delivery systems," Glickman said in a statement.
"We will continue working aggressively on all fronts to make sure consumers will have access to high-value content on broadcast television," he said.
The high-tech industry trade Information Technology Association of America meanwhile praised the court decision.
"We believe the marketplace, not federal regulators, is the best arbiter of technology standards," said ITAA president Harris Miller.
"Congress never intended the FCC to be the Federal Technology Commission. Just as video recorders and DVD players have created substantial new markets for motion picture producers, we believe that copyrighted digital broadcasts will build substantial new markets and new business opportunities for a wide range of copyright owners."
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