July 15, 2002 12:15 PM PDT

Tech execs: Hands off P2P

Technology executives said Monday that they're ready to work with Hollywood to prevent piracy but they're concerned that studios' efforts could undermine file-swapping technology.

In a joint missive to studio chiefs, signed by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, Intel's Craig Barrett, Dell Computer's Michael Dell and others, technology CEOs said they were ready to sit down with movie industry representatives to discuss anti-piracy issues--but only if the studios agree that technology can't solve all their problems.

With several conditions attached, the letter represented only a qualified olive branch extended toward the studios, which have criticized technology companies for turning a blind eye to Net piracy.

"Technology is an important part of the piracy solution, but it is not the only solution," the technology executives said. "For any future discussions to accomplish our shared objectives...the agenda must be expanded to include other matters of equal importance."

The letter from Ballmer, Dell and the others comes at a time of growing animosity between high-tech companies benefiting from the explosion in multimedia technologies and copyright holders that see computer and networks as tools for piracy. That relationship, always tense, has soured since the introduction of a bill in Congress that would require technology companies to include anti-piracy protections in virtually all products.

The relationship hasn't been helped by efforts like those from Gateway, which is actively encouraging its customers to oppose the legislation as part of a campaign promoting digital music.

In April, studio heads sent an open letter to the same group of technology executives calling for the creation of a new working group focused on finding ways to block peer-to-peer piracy.

"In the absence of a digital environment respectful of private property, America's most valuable trade asset will remain under siege through online piracy," the studio heads wrote.

In their letter Monday, the technology executives cautioned that addressing peer-to-peer issues likely would require a "longer-term, deliberative approach." File-swapping technology is "critical to further advances in our economy" and has to be treated carefully, they said.

"Any solutions to the problem of piracy must not compromise the innovations this (technology) has to offer," the executives wrote. "Peer-to-peer technologies constitute a basic functionality of the computing environment today."

As a condition of opening discussions on file-swapping issues, the technology executives said joint efforts also should discuss consumer education, enforcement of existing laws, and new ways to use the Net to distribute content.

More controversially, the executives noted that many consumers have expectations about "fair use" of entertainment products that include sharing music or other products with others. Those consumer beliefs must be part of any discussion, the executives said.

 

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