Intel Corp. says PCs could be turned into "dumb terminals" if a bill on digital copyright now before the U.S. Congress is passed.
The consumer broadband and digital television promotion bill proposes forcing makers of PCs and other consumer electronics products to build copy-protection technology into hardware and making it illegal to sell equipment without it.
The bill is designed to stop the copying of films and other digital content. But opponents say it goes too far, and a furious row has broken out between the bill's Hollywood backers and Silicon Valley.
Senator Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., introducing the bill, said: "Any device that can legitimately play, copy or electronically transmit one or more categories of media can also be misused for illegal copyright infringement, unless special protection technologies are incorporated into such a device."
Hollings told Congress that industry negotiations to agree on a solution "have been lagging" and "the private sector needs a nudge".
Intel says it feels so strongly about the bill that it has taken the unusual step of protesting publicly rather than going through trade associations. An Intel spokesman said: "Rather than allowing the PC to do a multitude of things, [the bill] turns it into a dumb terminal that just plays back things."
Hollings argued that his bill would stimulate the industry by "unleashing an avalanche of digital content" and give consumers more reasons to buy new products. The Intel spokesman said it would "stall innovation" as consumers hang on to their older machines without the built-in protection.
The proposed scheme would require a PC to examine digital content and try to match it with known copyrighted material on a central database over the Internet.
This is not yet technically feasible and also "a huge invasion of privacy," the Intel spokesman said.
The bill follows controversy over a recent federal court judgment, also the result of lobbying from Hollywood, that says U.S. manufacturers of personal video recorders should provide content holders with individual records of what users watch using the boxes.