Hollings Offers Copy-Protection Bill

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Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) last week introduced legislation designed to resolve the digital-content piracy controversy now raging between some Hollywood studios and the computer-hardware industry.

The legislation would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to set standards within one year if private industry fails to reach an agreement. The Walt Disney Co. and News Corp. have been the most aggressive in seeking legislation.

The bill is designed to ensure that at some point, digital-media devices and the software that runs them can prevent the illegal downloading and sharing of digital files that contain Hollywood films. Standards would also apply to digital broadcast signals and analog broadcast signals converted to digital format.

Hollywood and such computer-component manufacturers as Intel Corp. have been at odds for years, and the motives of each side have been called into question.

Movie-industry leaders think computer firms subtly endorse illegal movie downloads to promote computer sales, while the computer industry believes Hollywood wants an excessively restrictive copy-protection regime to deny consumers hard-won fair use of copyrighted content.

News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin last week told an audience here that digital piracy is rampant and a serious threat to his industry.

"The truth is that stealing is stealing," Chernin said in a speech to the Media Institute. "Fair use is not a license for consumers to loot online."

The Hollings bill is unlikely to become law this year. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he opposes a government-mandated solution to digital-rights management.

Hollings failed to line up both California senators. Although Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) signed on as an original co-sponsor, her Democratic colleague, Sen. Barbara Boxer, did not. At a recent Senate hearing, Boxer said she was trying to balance the interests of her Silicon Valley and Hollywood constituents.