New Alliance Opposes Anti-Piracy Mandates

By Roy Mark

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A new alliance of tech companies, consumer groups and trade associations was launched Thursday to oppose government-mandated technology measures to solve the problem of digital piracy.

The Alliance for Digital Progress (ADP) says it will fight Hollywood-bankrolled efforts in Congress to require anti-copying technology be built into computers and other electronic devices.

The more than 20 members of ADP, including computer makers Apple, Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, say they strongly support the protection of digital content, but they also "firmly believe that the best way to fight piracy is through private-sector collaboration."

Last week, a similar coalition of recording and technology industries announced they had signed a "landmark" agreement on a core set of principles about the distribution of digital content in hopes of thwarting new legislation action regarding digital copyright law.

The ADP opposes legislation like S. 2048, The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) during the 107th Congress, which would have required government mandated technology that would prevent unauthorized digital copying in any product that handles digital content such as movies and music. The legislation died in committee.

"Piracy of digital content is a serious, complex problem that concerns all of us," said ADP President Fred McClure. "But government-designed and mandated technology that swaps the diversity of marketplace solutions for a 'one size fits all' approach is not the answer."

McClure, who served as an assistant for legislative affairs in the Reagan administration and held a similar position in the first Bush presidency, added, "Mandates are a mistake. A mandate will raise the price of everything from CD players and DVD players to personal computers. It will make the devices consumers own today obsolete. And it will stifle the innovation at the heart of digital progress."

The ADP plans a "vigorous" national campaign to prevent the adoption of mandates through legislation or regulation. The alliance will lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill, administration officials and the public to communicate its concerns.

"ADP believes Hollywood should fight piracy by working with industry to come up with solutions that meet consumer expectations, and by providing attractive legal alternatives to piracy by putting content online in a wide variety of digital formats," McClure said.

According to the ADP, private collaboration between hardware makers, software producers and copyright owners is what gave consumers products such as the DVD, which has become the most rapidly adopted entertainment technology in history. A study unveiled by the DVD Entertainment Group earlier this month showed that, for the first time ever, DVD sales and rental revenues in 2002 surpassed the box office's record-breaking receipts for the same period. According to projections from PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hollywood's total DVD revenues, fueled by increasing mainstream adoption of DVDs, will exceed box office receipts again next year.

Hollywood studios, though, are insisting legislation is the answer to online piracy, mandates despite the fact that the industry's 2002 revenues set a record for the third year running.

Burning Gutenberg's press
"Hollywood leaders like Jack Valenti would have organized the monks to burn down Gutenberg's printing press, if they were alive during that period of rapid change and innovation," said ITAA President Harris N. Miller, president of ADP member Information Technology Association of America (ITAA ). "Legislators have heard Hollywood's pleas to stifle innovation, but more education will help them make informed decisions. We look forward to working with ADP to make sure all sides are heard when it comes to digital rights management."

In comments last month submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC ) the ITAA concluded, "ITAA member companies are skeptical of the ability of government regulation and government-mandated technology solutions to resolve problems better left to the marketplace, private agreements, inter-industry standards development, consumer education and enhanced law enforcement to address problems of copyright piracy in the emerging digital environment."

In last week's agreement, signed by the Business Software Alliance, the Computer Systems Policy Project and the Recording Industry Association of America , seeks to promote cross-industry coordination to elevate consumer awareness of piracy issues, a unified consensus on how content creators should be able to use technology to protect their property, and an agreement between the industries that government technical mandates are not the best way to serve the long term interests of consumers, record companies and the technology industry.