WASHINGTON A new lobbying group with heavy backing from the U.S. electronics industry is battling Hollywood over whether government-mandated technology standards are the best way to protect digital content.
The Alliance for Digital Progress, launched here Thursday (Jan. 23), said it will work to block technology mandates designed to combat digital piracy such as those contained in proposed legislation backed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The legislation stalled in Congress last year.
Instead, the group said it favors protecting digital content through technical standards developed through an industry consensus. "A one-size-fits-all approach won't work, but that's precisely what Hollywood seeks from Congress," said Fred McClure, president of the newly formed alliance. "The answer lies in the private sector cooperating" and enforcement of copyright laws.
Impediment to innovation?
The danger of government mandates, the group warned, is the stifling of technology innovation, product performance and new distribution models such as peer-to-peer file sharing.
MPAA and its members have said they opted for the threat of congressional action precisely because industry could not a reach a consensus on how to protect digital content broadcast via digital TV systems or over computer networks. MPAA president Jack Valenti has said the specter of government-mandated technical specs was the only way to resolve differences between Hollywood studios and the consumer electronics industry.
The MPAA last year persuaded Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., then chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to introduce legislation mandating standards for protecting digital content. The legislation went nowhere, and observers said there is little chance similar legislation would be proposed in the current GOP-dominated Congress.
"These issues have a tendency not to go away in this town," McClure said. "So we will be vigilant."
He added that the group would monitor several legislative proposals on the issue, including a bill that would extend "fair-use" protections of digital content to U.S. copyright law and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 15 and is backed by the Home Recording Rights Coalition, a consumer advocacy group concerned with private, non-commercial use of home electronics products.
Alliance officials said they would leave negotiations on copy protection standards to its members rather than engaging directly in those talks. The Federal Communications Commission would likely have to sign off on any industry agreement in order to ensure that standards were fairly enforced.
Asked the group's position on the need for FCC approval of an industry technical standard for copy protection, McClure said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
McClure previous served in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
Among the group's members are American Electronics Association, Apple Computer, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft. Motorola and the Semiconductor Industry Association.