Content, tech industries debate digital copy protection

By Cara Garretson, IDG News Service |  Business

Mix the thundering clash of two huge U.S. industries with the threat of government intervention and the potential for consumer rights violations, and what do you get? The debate over digital copy protection that is playing out in Hollywood, Silicon Valley and, most recently, Washington, D.C.

Following numerous congressional hearings on the issue over the past few months, public policy group the Cato Institute hosted a panel discussion here Wednesday morning on whether technological controls should be put in place to protect copyright digital content, such as music and movies, from illegal copying and distribution. As expected, representatives of the technology industry disagreed with content company executives over who is responsible for safeguarding digital works.
Content companies claimed the responsibility lies with PC and consumer electronics companies, which make the devices that can duplicate their digital music and video products. Members of this industry have taken their complaints to Congress, resulting in a proposed bill by South Carolina Democrat Senator Fritz Hollings that would force the inclusion of government-mandated digital rights management (DRM) technology in PCs and devices.

The technology industry has bristled at the idea of going through the trouble and expense of equipping products with such government-issued safeguards. Moreover, they claim DRM is no cure-all to Internet piracy, because many digital works are pirated before they even leave the studios and no technology can prevent that.

Creating the most controversy are Internet peer-to-peer file-sharing services, which critics say facilitate the unauthorized distribution of copyright materials freely across the Web. "For us the future is the Internet ... but we cannot afford to give (our content) away for free," said Rick Lane, vice president of government affairs with news and entertainment company News Corp. "We need protections in place."

Members of the technology industry agreed that Internet piracy is serious problem but argued that getting the government to set technology standards is not the solution. "We at Verizon don't think the answer is a mandatory DRM scheme," said Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications Inc., which operates an Internet service provider (ISP) division.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998 to update U.S. copyright law to protect digital works, makes provisions for the use of DRM but doesn't mandate it, Deutsch said. Still, content companies have not approached Verizon to discuss implementing the technology, opting instead to take the issue to Congress. "Why hadn't voluntary talks begun?" she asked.

Hollings' proposed bill, which Deutsch referred to as a digital Pearl Harbor, would shift the responsibility and cost of implementing DRM to technology companies, including ISPs, she said.

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