The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ordered US computer and TV manufacturers to incorporate digital rights management (DRM) technology into their products by July 2005.
The Commission wants to deter people from swapping free-to-air digital TV programmes and movies over peer-to-peer networks, and protect the entertainment industry from the problems the music industry is experiencing.
FCC chairman Michael Powell said in a statement that the protection had to be mandatory because, unlike cable and pay-per-view TV, free-to-air TV broadcasts are not encrypted.
The film industry has also welcomed the move as a means of protecting copyright.
In a panel debate, movie moguls and TV producers said the industry faces a growing threat from a Napster-style network, where people could upload and share digital films and TV programmes without paying for them.
They likened consumer goods manufacturers to arms dealers, maintaining that they sell the ammunition to both sides. In DRM, they have a weapon they can use to fight back.
Manufacturers will now have to incorporate DRM readers in digital TV sets and PCs, which will read what the FCC has called a "broadcast flag", a code attached to digital broadcasts.
The PC or TV must be able to 'read' this code to display the programmes or movies.
Although people will be able to record these shows, they will not be able to upload them to unsecured networks.
They will have to buy new DVD players to watch TV programmes, and movies may be recorded using this technology in the future.
Although this is a US ruling, the Australian free-to-air TV industry looks set to adopt similar restrictions and more countries are likely to follow.
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