Copyright protection bill draws criticism |  Business

A U.S. senator on Thursday introduced a controversial bill that would force the inclusion of copyright protection technology in digital media devices ranging from PCs to cable television set-top boxes.

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, introduced on Thursday by South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings, calls for the IT, consumer electronic, and entertainment industries to work together on digital content safeguards. If the groups can't come to agreement on protection technology within a year, the federal government would step in and mandate specifications, according to a summary of the bill issued by Hollings' office.

The measure is designed to help spur the adoption of broadband Internet connections and digital television, which have been stunted by the lack of digital content made available by entertainment companies that fear exposing their works to copyright violations, Hollings said in a statement issued Thursday.

"By unleashing an avalanche of digital content on broadband Internet connections as well as over the digital broadcast airwaves, we can change this dynamic and give consumers a reason to buy new consumer electronics and information technology products," Hollings said. "To do so requires the development of a secure, protected environment to foster the widespread dissemination of digital content in these exciting new mediums."

The IT and entertainment industries have been working together to develop technology that protects digital copyright material, according to officials who have testified at Senate hearings on the topic, pointing to their joint work to create cryptographic tools to prevent copyright violations with DVDs (digital versatile discs). But some in the entertainment industry have complained to Congress that progress is not moving fast enough, and that the IT industry is reticent to protect digital works that traverse the Internet.

Hollings' bill would prod these joint efforts by giving the parties involved a one-year deadline to come up with solutions to three particular issues: ensuring that content digital televisions receive from over-the-air digital broadcasts cannot be pirated; protecting high-definition content when it's translated to an analog signal for traditional TV sets; and preventing digital content from unauthorized distribution on the Web through peer-to-peer file sharing.

In his statement supporting the bill, Hollings expressed frustration with the time it's taken for the IT and consumer electronics industries to develop the copyright protection technology that the entertainment industry has been clamoring for. "Industry negotiations have been lagging. Both sides share some blame in this area," he said. "But the blame games need to end. It's time for results, not recriminations."

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