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Appeared on: Tuesday, October 23, 2001
PC industry girds for copy-protection fight

The PC industry is circling its wagons in preparation to fight proposed copy-protection legislation, arguing at a Monday (Oct. 22) briefing that the protection plan backed by Hollywood would freeze technology while failing to solve piracy concerns.

At issue is legislation expected to be introduced in the Senate as early as this week that critics said would mandate specific copyright protection technologies for a range of digital devices. The legislation, still in draft form, is sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

A hearing on the legislation, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act, was scheduled to be held this Thursday (Oct. 25), but the recent anthrax bio-terrorism scare on Capitol Hill may force postponement. The legislation calls for interactive digital devices to include security technologies certified by the Secretary of Commerce.

A PC industry executive said a range of copy-protection technologies are available to prevent video piracy and that a single solution will not work and won't be embraced by consumers. "It's a myth to say that there is a magic bullet out there" to protect all content, said Jeffrey Lawrence, an Intel Corp. executive and member of the Copy Protection Technology Working Group, a cross-industry group working on copy-protection standards.

The Hollings bill is "an unwarranted intrusion by the government into the marketplace" that would mean a "snap-shot approach" to digital rights management, added Ken Kay, executive director of the Computer Systems Policy Project, a PC industry group based here. "It will freeze technologies in place."

The motion-picture industry, led by the Disney and Fox studios, backs the legislation. "This is the best way to protect America's valuable creative works, which in turn will expand broadband access and Internet use," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America.

A key question in the copy-protection debate is whether better content protection is needed to speed expansion of broadband networks. The draft legislation would require the content and PC industries to develop a digital copy-protection standard over an 18-month period. If they failed, the legislation would impose a federal standard.

Hollywood has long complained about what is sees as the PC industry's inability to reach a consensus on encryption, digital watermarks and other copy-protection technology standards. The PC and IT industries point to the MPEG spec and DVD copy protection schemes as examples of how different industries with often opposing views can overcome differences to agree on new digital standards.

Rather than approving legislation that would impose a standard, "We want to find solutions that work," Kay said.

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