updated 5/6/2005 1:24:48 PM ET 2005-05-06T17:24:48

A U.S. appeals court on Friday threw out new federal rules to require anti-piracy technology that would have limited how consumers could record and watch their favorite television programs in the future.

The three-judge panel for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia determined the Federal Communications Commission had exceeded its authority when it announced it would require such technology in digital televisions and other consumer electronic devices sold after July 1.

"This opens up the future for consumers to have more wide-ranging video experiences," said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Washington-based Public Knowledge, a consumers group. "They will be able to take advantage of new products and features that won't be dictated to them by the entertainment industry."

The controversial rules were challenged by consumer groups, including library associations. Their lawyers complained the FCC requirement would drive up prices of digital television devices and prevent consumers from recording programs in ways permitted under copyright laws.

The technology, known as the broadcast flag, would have been required after July 1 for televisions equipped to receive new digital signals, many personal computers and VCR-type recording devices. It would permit entertainment companies to designate, or flag, programs to prevent viewers from copying shows or distributing them over the Internet.

Entertainment companies said the technology was needed to block viewers from recording high-quality, digital versions of television shows and films and distributing them free online.

The FCC acknowledged the agency never had exercised the authority to impose regulations affecting television broadcasts after such programs are beamed into households, but it maintained that it was permitted by Congress since lawmakers didn't explicitly outlaw it.

"We categorically reject that suggestion," the appeals panel said.

The appeals decision will launch an aggressive lobbying effort by entertainment companies in Washington to persuade lawmakers to require new technology to enforce copyright protections.

Friday's ruling was no real surprise. During courtroom arguments, U.S. Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards told the FCC it had "crossed the line" by requiring the new anti-piracy technology for next-generation television devices and rhetorically asked the FCC whether it also intended to regulate household appliances.

"You've gone too far," Edwards told the FCC's lawyer. "Are washing machines next?"

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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