Congress would be "putting the dinosaurs in charge of evolution" if Hollywood succeeds in obtaining a federal law that would restrict consumer use of digital video and music, a civil liberties attorney told an Associated Press conference. Legislation introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., would require consumer electronics makers to equip devices with a built-in "copyright chip" that would enforce a government-approved encryption scheme.
"The content industry is saying, `We need to be able to tell the technology industry what they can and cannot build,'" Fred von Lohmann said Monday during a panel discussion on protecting intellectual property in the digital age. "That's what the fight is all about."
Von Lohmann said some digital video recorders, digital music players — and newer DVD and CD formats already on the market — feature built-in copy-protection that aims to thwart consumers' freedoms to copy and share their music and video.
If Hollywood can legally compel technology companies to lock copy-protection into consumer devices, von Lohmann said consumers won't be the only ones hurt.
The restrictions will also stifle innovation and damage the economy, said the attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His clients include online music-swapping companies that have been sued by the recording industry.
Chris Cookson, Warner Bros.' chief technology officer, insisted that proposed restrictions aren't aimed at blocking consumers' personal uses of music and video, but to prevent piraters from distributing it over the Internet.
With digital broadcast technology advancing quickly, technology and entertainment companies haven't been able to agree on even the most rudimentary policies.
Hollywood wants to add a "digital flag," or identifier, to coming digital television broadcasts, that would hamper copying. But Intel Corp., Philips Electronics NV and other hardware companies have balked at building anti-copying measures into their devices.
In a separate discussion at the two-day conference, futurist author Howard Rheingold said powerful mobile computer technologies were enabling the quick organization of "smart mobs" of like-minded people — for good and bad.
Rheingold said text messaging via cell phone played a key role in organizing mass demonstrations that led to the January 2001 ouster of Philippine president Joseph Estrada (news - web sites). In the future, more pervasive uses could organize pro-democracy rallies — or criminal or terrorist movements, said Rheingold, whose book "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution" is being published this month.
Earlier Monday, an executive from Hewlett-Packard Co. said that while the battle between Microsoft Corp. and the open-source software movement may dominate headlines, both the Windows and Linux (news - web sites) operating systems are gaining market share at the expense of Sun Microsystems Inc. and other companies that customize hardware and develop unique flavors of the Unix (news - web sites) operating system.
HP, for one, builds servers based on Unix, open-source Linux and Microsoft Windows, fulfilling the demands of customers who are often passionate about one choice or the other, said Rick Becker, a company vice president.
HP sees no conflicts in satisfying both camps as customers seek the lower cost and improving capabilities of industry-standard hardware. That spells trouble for makers of custom servers, including Sun and International Business Machines Corp.
"People are leaving proprietary ... systems and moving to industry standards," Becker said.
He was joined by Larry Augustin, chairman of VA Software Corp. and Doug Miller, director of Unix migration strategy in Microsoft's server products group.
In recent months, Microsoft has toned down its criticism of open-source software, which is distributed with its programming code attached and often lets customers change it to their needs.
Two years ago, chief executive Steve Ballmer likened it to cancer. Now, the software giant says it wants to ensure that its products play well with Linux and other open-source solutions based on standards.