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Studios Applaud Hollings Bill

28 Mar, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

In the week since Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C) threw down the legislative gauntlet before the warring entertainment, communications and technology tribes, some of the natives seem a bit more conciliatory while others are drawing their lines in the sand.

The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA) would mandate player-based copyright protection systems and would make it illegal for consumers to tamper with those protections.

Since CBDTPA (S. 2048) was introduced, studio representatives have supported it, a group of researchers released an opinion that a standard must be hardware-based and the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) protested the threat of a hardware standard.

“It is unclear whether [the bill] is intended to apply solely to consumer electronics and computer products that deal with video entertainment, or also to all products that can handle music, computer programs and data as well,” said an HRRC statement. “The definitions embrace the broader categories but the limited exemptions are defined only in terms of video entertainment.”

At the same time, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) president and CEO Jack Valenti praised the proposal.

“We firmly believe that the goal of a digital environment that is respectful of copyrighted creative works is well within the reach of the parties and look forward to collaborating with the information technology and consumer electronics industries to reach a speedy resolution to these piracy problems,” Valenti said. He outlined the movie industry's goals as establishing a system of “broadcast flags” to prevent online distribution of broadcast material; a plug for the “analog hole” that lets consumers easily record analog broadcast programming into a form that is easily trannsmitted digitally; and limiting free file-trading of copyrighted works.

The bill Hollings introduced March 21 gave the industries a year after it passes (assuming it does) to settle their differences and reach an accord ondigital rights management (DRM) or face a government-imposed standard. It includes a progress report within six months that would have to pass muster in several key Senate committees, but it also includes a provision allowing for a deadline extension.

“During the legislative process we hope to put forward proposals that reflect the progress and success of private sector discussions and, if government assistance is needed, narrow the scope of any legislation or regulation to enforce the various (or individual) solutions,” Valenti said.

The bill also lays out guidelines for protections that would allow fair consumer, research and academic use.

Senate Commerce Committee hearings over the bill's never-introduced predecessor Security Systems Standards and Certification Act SSSCA pitted entertainment and technology executives against each other, with studio representatives accusing computer makers of maing digital piracy “the next killer app.” The result was Hollings' ultimatum to work it out among themselves or face a Federal Communications Commission rule.

In some ways CBDTPA is so ambiguous it appears to baffle even analysts.

“I understand the spirit, it's the execution and the practicality of it that we are questioning,” said Jupiter Media Metrix senior analyst Lydia Lozoides. “You have to make connections between three giants – electronics, software and content providers. Do you want to live in a world where there is one standard? Those are the realities of how you would get the studios to work with the Intertrusts, Microsofts and the Real Networks of the world, with the Pioneers and Sonys.”

One perplexing aspect of the bill, said Lozoides, is a requirement that the DRM scheme be “based on an open source code,” which means any programmer could read and try to improve upon it.

“Someone has to lose and someone has to give something up to have an open standard,” Lozoides said. "I think the spirit of it is there, but the academic -- trying to execute in the real world, what it would take -- is just overwhelming. Some one industry is going to take a hit.”

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