IT, media companies find copyright common ground

ITworld.com |  Business

Either the witnesses who testified at a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday were on their best behavior, or the IT and entertainment industries really are coming to agreement on technology to combat digital copyright violations.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy held a hearing here to examine whether the government should get involved in protecting digital works, such as songs or movies, that fall victim to illegal distribution across the Internet. While many senators on the committee said they would prefer that the IT and entertainment industries work out a solution on their own, they wanted proof that progress is being made.

Reports have reached the committee that while the two industries have made some progress in developing such technology, that work has reached an impasse, Leahy said. Some members of the entertainment industry are now calling on Congress to give the IT industry a deadline for solving the remaining technological issues, or else hand the project over to a government agency.

"This strikes me as wrong-headed," Leahy said. "Until differences are resolved (between the two industries), certainly no legislation will pass this year."

Those differences were on display at another Senate hearing just two weeks ago, when members of the IT and entertainment industries bickered over the viability of protecting copyright works from unlawful distribution once they've been unleashed on the Internet. At that hearing, Walt Disney Co.'s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael Eisner implied that the IT industry is not rushing to find a solution to this problem because pirated content helps sell PCs; a claim that Intel Corp.'s Executive Vice President Leslie Vadasz refuted.

Thursday's hearing was less volatile, as witnesses outlined the progress they've made in developing solutions and committed to working together further.

The IT industry loses about four times as much potential revenue to piracy as the entertainment industry, said Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO. "That gives a relative measure of how important it is to our industry to protect intellectual property," he said.

The two industries have been working together for six years to protect digital content, Barrett said, which has resulted in technology such as cryptographic tools to prevent copyright violations with DVDs. Currently they are focused on developing technology for three goals: to ensure that content digital televisions receive from over-the-air digital broadcasts cannot be pirated, to protect high-definition content when it's translated to an analog signal for traditional TV sets, and to prevent digital content from unauthorized distribution on the Web through peer-to-peer file sharing.

Barrett and other witnesses agreed that in these three areas, some legislation may be needed to create policy around the technology.

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