June 5, 2002 4:45 PM PDT

Execs look to lead anti-piracy charge

A group of tech executives defended anti-piracy technology at a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday but urged lawmakers to steer clear of government regulations.

A hearing at the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property saw Microsoft, Adobe Systems, SunnComm and CenterSpan Communications outline the benefits of anti-piracy technology, saying it protects content while expanding consumer choice. But they emphasized the dangers of a broad mandate from legislators.

"Regulatory action, if any, will be most effective where it does not dampen private-sector incentives for innovation, restrict competition, or make it more difficult or costly for industry to respond to DRM circumventions by hackers," Will Poole, vice president of Microsoft, said in his testimony. However, "broad regulatory mandates prompted by industry-specific concerns are particularly ill-suited to the growing diversity of digital content."

The hearing comes against a backdrop of frustration over the ongoing problem of piracy within the music, film and publishing industries. On Tuesday, the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group--a coalition of film studios, TV broadcast networks and electronics manufacturers--proposed technological standards designed to prevent digital TV recordings from showing up online.

But legislators have grown impatient with the industry's slow-moving efforts to find its own solutions. Three months ago Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C. introduced a bill that would force computer and consumer-electronics companies to include anti-piracy technology in their digital devices, among other things. Many technology companies oppose such a government mandate, including computer maker Gateway, which said the bill threatens the future of CD burners.

Meanwhile, the Recording Industry Association of America in April encouraged legislators to earmark additional federal funds to combat the ongoing wave of piracy. The International Federation of Phonographic Industries said that in 2001 the sale of illegal recordings exceeded $4.2 billion worldwide, not including losses due to online piracy.

On Wednesday, Microsoft, which continues to push its anti-piracy technology dubbed Windows Media Rights Manager, said that without so-called digital rights management (DRM) technology, "digital piracy will flourish" and the victims ultimately will be consumers. Microsoft's technology allows content owners to deliver music, video and other media content online in a secure format.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., acknowledged that DRM technologies offer copyright owners the comfort in making their works available in digital formats, but he questioned the effectiveness of such anti-piracy technologies.

"No DRM solution is 100 percent successful," Berman said. "Even the best DRM ultimately cannot stop a determined hacker. Unfortunately DRM cannot protect content that is already available in the clear."

Berman noted, however, that a technological solution does not have to be fail-safe to be effective.

"If the DRM deters the average user from widespread piracy, such as illegally sharing content on a peer-to-peer network, then that DRM is a major step forward toward the goal of flexible, widespread, legitimate access to copyrighted content online," he said.

 

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