January 15, 2003 4:00 AM PST

Copyright truce excludes key voices

Read more about copyright matters
WASHINGTON--The key detail about a digital-copyright agreement announced here on Tuesday was who was not in the room at the time.

The peace accord was designed to show a unified front linking the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and a pair of computer industry groups, thus persuading Congress that new regulations are unnecessary. But absent from the press conference were influential lobbyists who have been far more aggressive--and who show no signs of relenting.

Take the Motion Picture Association of America, which worked with Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., to craft a bill that would require implanting copy-protection technology in PCs and consumer-electronics devices. Though the plan is anathema to Silicon Valley, Hollywood seems convinced that such extreme measures are the only way to prevent movies from becoming as widely traded as MP3 files currently are.

That's why MPAA President Jack Valenti says he's not about to sign a truce. "We are not prepared to abandon the option of seeking technical protection measures via the Congress or appropriate regulatory agency," Valenti said in a statement Tuesday.

Neither is the other side. The Consumer Electronics Association has long-opposed Hollings' bill, while supporting a different proposal to enhance Americans' rights to make "fair use" of copyrighted content without running afoul of the law.

CEA President Gary Shapiro is precisely as unyielding as Valenti. "We continue to believe that legislation is required to strike the necessary balance between protecting copyrights and consumers' fair use rights," Shapiro said Tuesday.

In other words, the RIAA and its allies at the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP) are happy enough with the legal status quo, or at least don't wish to risk a clash on Capitol Hill with an uncertain outcome. The movie industry, CEA and consumer groups, on the other hand, are willing to risk that confrontation.

Classic compromise
At Tuesday's press conference, the groups distributed a seven-point list of "policy principles" on which they agree. The groups agreed on more money for greater public awareness of copyright laws, satisfying "consumer expectations," civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions against pirates, and opposition to "government mandates."

It represents, in other words, a kind of classic Washington compromise. Tech firms won't argue for legislation providing Americans with more "fair use" rights, an idea the music industry opposes--and the recording industry won't call for new government regulations designed to limit piracy.

During Tuesday's press conference, the three groups took pains to characterize the cease-fire as a historic event, with CSPP Executive Director Ken Kay going so far as to call it a "sea change" in their approach.

Ken Kay, executive director of the Computer Systems Policy Project (left), Hilary Rosen, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of
America, and Robert Holleyman, CEO of the Business Software
Alliance, announce their alliance at a press conference Tuesday.

But the trio has always had more in common than not: Ideologically, the recording industry groups and the information technology groups have never been far apart. They've used similar tactics to combat piracy, ranging from sending cease-and-desist letters to Internet service providers to joining law enforcement in raids on CD and software reproduction facilities. With the rise of peer-to-peer networks, the piracy threats they face have never looked more similar.

Both lobbied for the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in the late 1990s and neither wants to rescind it. BSA President Robert Holleyman even hinted that he might want to expand it. "Developments may occur that cause us to believe that the DMCA needs to be strengthened or other portions have to be modified," Holleyman said.

And the music industry was hardly as enthusiastic about Hollings' Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act as the movie studios were. The MPAA's views at the time were unambiguous: "MPAA supports the Hollings bill."

RIAA Chief Executive Hilary Rosen never endorsed the bill. Instead, Rosen stressed "voluntary marketplace solutions" and said that the introduction of the wildly contentious bill "sends an unmistakable signal" to Congress.

No skin off anyone's nose there.

The impact
Perhaps the biggest impact of Tuesday's announcement is to zap any momentum that Hollings' proposal would have if he chose to reintroduce it in the new Congress that convened last week. With the Republican control of the Senate, Hollings lost his chairmanship of the commerce committee, but he's still in a position to try again.

By demonstrating that copyright holders are divided on what legislative approach is best, foes now stand a better chance of bottling up bills in committee. In addition to Hollings' approach, a proposal backed by Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., that would allow peer-to-peer hacking is now more likely to meet the same fate.

A third bill that could lose momentum is a measure pitched by Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., to defang the DMCA--a bill he reintroduced last week. Intel, Verizon Communications, Philips, Sun Microsystems and Gateway showed up at Boucher's event in October 2002 to support the proposal.

But some of those same groups belong to trade associations that vowed on Tuesday that the "role of government, if needed at all" in the copyright area should be limited to enforcing voluntary agreements. Intel, for instance, is a member of both the CSPP and the BSA.

It's not clear how closely the RIAA will hew to its laissez-faire pledge. Rosen said that her organization still planned to file comments in an FCC proceeding next month in which the agency is considering requiring televisions and other consumer-electronics products to include support for preventing copies of digital TV programs from being sent over the Internet.

A secondary impact of Tuesday's announcement will be to bolster interest in hardware and software devoted to digital rights management (DRM), such as Microsoft's Palladium architecture and the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance. On Tuesday, Transmeta said it planned to soon ship a Crusoe processor with proprietary DRM technologies to "protect sensitive data (and) deter intellectual property theft."

The industry has tried to implement voluntary standards before, with mixed success. One notable failure came last year, when a watermark scheme proposed as a standard by the Secure Digital Music Initiative was cracked by a team of academics during the last leg of the testing phase.

Such setbacks did not appear to dent the faith of those gathered to present Tuesday's copyright plan.

The three groups stressed that in the absence of legislation, new "technical protection measures" were necessary. RIAA's Rosen said of the computer industry: "They're going to find technologies that best facilitate that."

 

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