November 21, 2002 10:05 PM PST

Tech firms, Hollywood meet on copyright

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WASHINGTON--Technology and entertainment lobbyists will sit down at the negotiating table Friday to seek a resolution to the long-running political spat over digital copyright.

About 20 lobbyists are expected to meet at the Eye Street offices of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), just two blocks from the White House, to try to find common ground before the new Congress starts in January.

The companies and trade associations represented at the closed-door meeting include Microsoft, Verizon Communications, the Business Software Alliance, AOL Time Warner, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Fox Entertainment Group.

"We're pleased that so many people who are important players in this debate are willing to sit down with us to discuss the consumer perspective on digital copyright," said Alan Davidson, CDT's deputy director.

Political tension between the tech and media industries has rarely been more acute. Faced with mass piracy on peer-to-peer networks and increasingly efficient technologies under development, the MPAA and its allies in the recording industry have asked Congress for sweeping new laws.

Senate Commerce Chairman Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., has introduced legislation to force the implanting of copy-protection technology in PCs and consumer electronic devices. Reps. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Howard Coble, R-N.C., hope to allow copyright holders to disrupt peer-to-peer networks where infringing activity is taking place.

All sides of the dispute have reached an impasse. It's easier for lobbyists to block legislation than enact it, but if online piracy continues to flourish, the new Congress could be far more receptive to new copyright proposals. All sides would prefer to reach a compromise at the bargaining table than risk the political uncertainty of committee votes, legislative delays, and last-minute amendments to bills.

Friday's meeting is designed to start the negotiating process, and CDT's Davidson said he had no idea how it would end. "We don't know what the outcome will be, but we're hopeful that we can make progress in representing what has been an underrepresented voice--consumers," Davidson said.

By jointly hosting this series of meetings with Consumers Union and Public Knowledge, CDT hopes to influence any possible deal. According to a financial statement filed last year with the IRS, CDT had a budget of $1.5 million in 2000. It receives money from sources including foundations, Microsoft, Verizon and AOL Time Warner.


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