March 14, 2002 10:35 AM PST

Tech execs lash into piracy proposals

A group of tech executives is asking Washington lawmakers to steer clear of regulations requiring them to develop products to stop piracy--especially those proposed by Hollywood studios.

During hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett, incoming AOL Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons and Excite co-founder Joe Kraus reacted to Hollywood's increasing pressure to place responsibility for preventing piracy on the shoulders of tech companies.

The tech community is scrambling to oppose Hollywood-backed proposals that would require companies to insert content-protection technology into their products. On Wednesday, the Consumer Electronics Association asked lawmakers to refrain from rolling back consumer rights in their attempts to crack down on piracy.

One of the most controversial proposals, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), would require companies to include government-approved anti-copying technology in computers and electronic devices and would make it illegal for consumers to remove it.

Intel's Barrett urged senators to hold off on adopting legislation, saying his industry already is working to combat piracy.

"Some in the content community have suggested that the IT industry does not care about reducing piracy of copyrighted works, that we actually promote piracy to grow our industry. Nothing could be further from the truth," Barrett said in prepared testimony submitted before the hearing.

Barrett said his industry has responded to Hollywood's concerns about piracy for more than six years and has developed a range of secure technologies.

However, he said it is not the job of tech companies to police the Internet for pirated works, especially those available on peer-to-peer networks.

"Some content providers suggest that all digital devices could continuously examine all data downloaded from the Internet and analyze it to sort out copyrighted from uncopyrighted material," Barrett said. "We don't think this would work."

Intel has become an increasingly vocal opponent of Hollywood's content-control practices. During Senate hearings two weeks ago, Intel co-founder Leslie Vadasz criticized Hollywood's legislative push, prompting cyberliberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation to urge consumers to write the company a thank-you letter and send copies to other tech executives.

Thursday's hearing was also the coming out party for DigitalConsumer.org, a new group that will strive to represent the consumer voice in what's shaping up to be a nasty fight between Hollywood and the tech industry over digital content. Started by Excite co-founder Kraus, DigitalConsumer.org is a group of Silicon Valley bigwigs who plan to educate consumers about industry efforts to restrict their rights to share, view, and transport movies and music.

Kraus, who was scheduled to testify before the judiciary committee Thursday, planned to tell senators he was concerned that current legislative plans could remove legally established consumer rights.

"While I understand the desire of the content industry to prevent illegal copying, I believe it would be a disservice to the hundreds of millions of law-abiding consumers in this country if the debate over preventing illegal copying suddenly stripped them of their ability to record TV shows they've paid for in their cable bill or copy CDs they've bought into their MP3 players to listen to them in the gym," Kraus wrote in prepared testimony.

Kraus said he's heard complaints from his parents that their DVD and MP3 players are "broken" because they wouldn't let them fast-forward through trailers or play songs from certain copy-protected CDs.

Though she was not included on the list of speakers for the hearing, Hilary Rosen, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, submitted written testimony that urged senators to consider that "rampant digital piracy is a serious threat to consumers."

In her testimony, Rosen pleaded for help from Washington. "Unfortunately, we fear that the marketplace may not be working to provide the incentives necessary for the development of such standards and to restore an appropriate level of effective protection for creative works," she wrote.

 

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