The broadcast flag is an attempt to mandate the use of digital restrictions
management (DRM) technology with U.S digital television and radio
broadcasts. In short, the broadcast flag regulations, as adopted by the
Federal Communications Commission, would require that reception equipment
honor a "do not copy" bit in a digital signal. The end result is that,
among other things, free TV and radio systems would not be allowed, since
they would fail the "robustness" requirement in the regulations. Happily,
a federal court threw out the broadcast regulation last May, ruling that
the FCC was not authorized to regulate what a piece of equipment does with
a signal after reception.
The return of the broadcast flag was inevitable; the commercial interests
behind this sort of regulation never give up that easily - or at all. Even
so, the return of the broadcast flag has been surprisingly quick. Twenty
U.S. members of Congress are now pushing for legislation which would give
the FCC the regulatory authority it currently lacks. Susan Crawford has
The Federal Communications Commission (a) has authority to adopt
such regulations governing digital audio broadcast transmissions
and digital audio receiving devices that are appropriate to control
the unauthorized copying and redistribution of digital audio
content by or over digital reception devices, related equipment,
and digital networks, including regulations governing permissible
copying and redistribution of such audio content....
This language is quite broad - the FCC would be empowered to regulate
"digital networks" in whatever ways it sees fit to keep the entertainment
industry happy. It does not take much imagination to foresee heavy-handed
rules which are not particularly friendly to free software. This
legislation needs to be defeated; BoingBoing has a
list of offending "congressjerks" and their contact information. We
don't doubt that they would be delighted to hear from their constituents on
The broadcast flag looks like a U.S. problem, but the situation in Europe
is similar. The EFF has just posted a report on the
activities of the Digital Video Broadcasting project, a body which sets
television standards for use in Europe, Australia, and even parts of Asia.
The upcoming DVB standard contains some familiar provisions:
This project is called Content Protection and Copy Management
(CPCM), and the DVB has put it centre-stage in its plans for DVB
3.0, the forthcoming version of the DVB standard. The scope of the
U.S. broadcast flag regulation was relatively narrow -- the
redistribution control flag could only be present or absent. DVB
CPCM, by contrast, is specifying remarkably fine-grained and
elaborate means by which broadcasters can control the detailed
functionality of receiving devices. In effect, CPCM and its
constituent specifications amount to a complicated, lengthy, and,
at present, secret body of private law that describes rules and
restrictions potentially applicable to all manufacturers of DTV
The CPCM includes provisions for "proximity control" and such, regulating
just how far a digital signal can be propagated. It includes a revocation
feature allowing existing hardware to be disabled should the industry
conclude that it has been compromised. The inevitable "robustness
requirement" will make it impossible to create digital television systems
with free software. The CPCM, in other words, is the broadcast flag, only
A broadcast flag for Europe is not inevitable. The process which CPCM will
have to follow is long: it must be adopted as a European telecommunications
standard, then mandated by law in each nation. There is plenty of warning,
and no end of good reasons to fight back. With effort - and luck - our
ability to create free television systems can be preserved on both sides of
Comments (6 posted)
At linux.conf.au 2005 in Canberra, kernel hacker Rusty Russell was heard to
voice a complaint. It seems that he had discovered The Battle for Wesnoth
, and his productivity
had suffered ever since. He mentioned it again some months later in
Ottawa, so one presumes that the problem had not yet gone away. Rusty is
not the only developer who has been afflicted by the Wesnoth disease over
the last year. If the pace of free software development appears to have
slowed recently, Wesnoth may well be to blame.
Battle for Wesnoth 1.0 was released on October 2.
Your editor, being a serious type, does not normally see fit to play
computer games (those past episodes with DND, rogue, empire, netrek,
nethack, etc. were just aberrations, honest). But a 1.0 release of a
popular, GPL-licensed game calls out for investigation; journalistic ethics
require it. So your editor pulled down the new release and checked it
out. For a while. In fact, the LWN Weekly Edition almost did not happen
this week, and it's all Wesnoth's fault.
Wesnoth is a two-dimensional swords, sorcery, and strategy game. In its
most basic form, the player must lead an army of elvish fighters against
the enemy (played by the computer), occupy villages, rape, pillage, and
wipe out the opposing leader. There is a variety of different character
types with different capabilities, and characters grow with experience.
The game includes a tutorial which makes getting started easy. There is
also a pleasant set of musical tracks and (sometimes less pleasant)
sound effects that go with the game. Your editor did not know, previously,
that ghosts would grunt when struck.
The game was designed to be extended. An editor packaged with Wesnoth (and
which is fun to work with in its own right)
makes it easy to design battlefields, and tools are available for the
creation of complete games. Many "campaigns" designed by users are
hosted on the central Wesnoth server; they are easily downloaded
from within the game and played. Wesnoth also offers multi-player operation.
It has often been said that gaming is one area where free software will
never come close to the proprietary competition. The high expense and
hit-oriented nature of the commercial game industry simply sets the bar too
high. And, in fact, Wesnoth is still a far cry from commercial battle
games available for proprietary platforms. The turn-oriented play,
relatively simple animation, and hexagonal-grid landscape all look
primitive compared to a high-budget commercial game.
But the gap is closing. Wesnoth as a game is engaging, challenging, and
visually and aurally pleasing. Wesnoth may not be able to compete with the
latest commercial blockbuster, but it does demonstrate that the free software
community is getting better at creating games. In this area, as with many
others, our reach is increasing.
There is another important aspect to Wesnoth's success which was also pointed
out by Rusty. There is plenty of good programming in Wesnoth, but it
doesn't stop there. Somebody has spent quite a bit of time designing
graphics and animated effects. Others have contributed music which one is
tempted to leave playing even after one has been crushed by the opposition
and seen one's castles go up in flames. As free software develops, there
will be more need for people who can make these kinds of contributions.
Wesnoth has set an example - applicable to a much wider range of
development projects - on how non-code contributors can be welcomed.
For that, if nothing else, the Wesnoth 1.0 release deserves hearty
Now your editor must go off and retry The Eastern Invasion one more time...
Comments (26 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Next page: Security>>