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Appeared on: Monday, April 08, 2002
HDTV advocates join copy-protection fray

The CD-burning, TV-recording public is about to get a stronger voice in the intense debate over the future of entertainment and technology. Forming this week at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas: a high-definition-TV advocacy group spearheaded by HDTV Magazine publisher Dale Cripps and editor in chief Howard Barton and communications attorney Tedson Meyers.

The group reflects the concerns of HDTV owners, many of whom are upset about the slow flow of high-definition broadcasts and the threat of new copy protection measures that could erode the usefulness of the more than 2 million expensive sets sold to date.

Early adopters ''feel a little bit knifed in the back, and I don't blame them,'' Cripps says. The group, which expects to announce its name and plans later this week, will lobby Congress and educate consumers about HDTV's benefits.

Less than a month ago, another advocacy group, DigitalConsumer.org, was formed by a Palo Alto, Calif.-based group of technology entrepreneurs and executives. They hope to get Congress to pass a consumer ''bill of rights.''

''We are trying to change the nature of the debate, because Hollywood has framed it as 'You are either in the camp of the pirates or in the camp of Hollywood,' '' says co-founder Joe Kraus, who also founded the Web portal Excite.com. ''There is a difference between copying and piracy. Making a copy of a song from your CD to take to the gym or in your car is not piracy.''

The movie industry is pressing for strong anti-copy protection to prevent piracy. Proponents say such protection would spur the digital TV transition.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell last week proposed voluntary measures for broadcasters, cable and satellite operators to speed the transition. And last month, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., introduced legislation to require broadcasters, studios and equipment makers to develop anti-piracy standards within a year to be incorporated into all home entertainment equipment and PCs.

Lack of such an agreement, Hollings says, has hampered the development of receiving equipment and quality content. Hollywood is concerned that movies and TV shows will get ''Napstered'' as more homes gain high-speed Net access. ''Broadband entices and allows piracy of films and TV programs on a massive, unprecedented scale,'' Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, said at congressional hearings in February.

But consumer advocates argue that movie studios and the music industry are looking for a way to reduce consumers' traditional abilities to record music and video that they purchase or receive for portability or backup.

The HDTV group is concerned about a proposal to let studios downgrade high-definition signals received by equipment that doesn't include new copy protections -- that is, most equipment sold to date -- to deter piracy. Other initiatives could prevent time-shifting and archiving of programs.

Unless consumers get involved, new laws and technological measures will adversely affect how they watch TV and listen to music, Kraus says. ''Historically, this has been a debate between the electronics companies and Hollywood. Consumers aren't in the room.''

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