A documentary withheld in Britain and shown, in part, by ABC News Thursday night has drawn a protest from the owners of the program, the British Broadcasting Corp., according to ABC News officials.

The BBC, which produced the documentary as part of a series called "Secret Society" and then withheld it after the government contended the program jeopardized national security, accused ABC News of infringing on the BBC's copyright by showing the excerpts, the ABC officials said Friday.

ABC spokeswoman Carol Olwert said that even though the BBC protested before the show aired, the network decided that U.S. copyright laws allow excerpts of any program deemed newsworthy. Some ABC executives said they were surprised that the BBC did not object more strenuously, given that The London Times had reported earlier that ABC intended to use parts of the program.

For many U.S. journalists, the incident serves to point out, once again, how much more freedom U.S. reporters have to publish or broadcast the news than their British counterparts. British newspapers and television stations have not been able to print excerpts or in some cases even reviews of "Spycatcher," the memoirs of a British secret agent that were published in the United States and other countries but banned in Britain.

The U.S. news media operate under the protection of the Constitution, which guarantees a free press as part of the First Amendment. In Britain, traditions and, in this case, the Official Secrets laws serve to bar publication or broadcast of information the government wants kept secret.

The BBC program, reported by investigative reporter and intelligence expert Duncan Campbell, was about Britain's secret plans for its first spy satellite, called Zircon, in 1988. Because of the production of the documentary, British police raided the offices of the BBC in Scotland last February, confiscating truckloads of notes, documents and more than 200 reels of videotape connected with the six-part television series.

After the BBC canceled the episode on Zircon, Campbell published an article about the satellite in The New Statesman and began showing the documentary to members of Parliament who had not been informed about the satellite production plans. Campbell's house, the homes of his assistants and the magazine offices were also searched as part of the British government's efforts to stop publication of information about the satellite.

Although British officials would not talk about the launching of Zircon, American and British intelligence officials told ABC and other journalists that the show does not reveal any secrets. The program quotes Sir Frank Cooper, a former top defense official in Britain, as saying: "I think everybody knows where everybody's satellite is, and you can see lists which are published in defense journals, et cetera, who has launched what, where."

Contacted yesterday, Campbell said he was notified Thursday that British authorities would take "all appropriate action" upon his return to Britain if it is found that he provided the documentary for broadcast in the United States in violation of an agreement Campbell had made with the British government.

Campbell said that under the agreement he could not publish technical material but could "continue with the debate." He said, "In my view, I would not break my {agreement} if I distributed it to all and sundry" but did not provide it for broadcast.

Bill Lord, executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight," said Campbell did not provide a copy of the episode. And Campbell was quoted on ABC as saying: "I haven't provided ABC or any other organization in the United States with a tape for broadcasting."

The program, which has been circulating privately in Britain and Europe, is scheduled to be shown Monday by the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco as part of its celebration of 10 years as an organization that provides funds to investigative reporters.

Campbell, who is one of the speakers at the event, is expected to leave the room when the documentary is shown, according to David Weir, executive director of the center. Asked whether Campbell provided the program, Weir said: "We are not saying how we got the copy."