The Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) dubbed a Senate proposal to mandate copy-protection technology as flawed and vague, but the music and movie industries showered it with praise.
The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, is also opposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who contended the bill won't pass this year.
The bill would give the entertainment, consumer electronics, and computer industries one-year to devise a copy-protection standard for digital TV broadcasts and Internet content distribution — or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will do it for them.
The bill contends that unprotected digital content "poses a substantial economic threat to America's content industries." Digital media devices that "incorporate technologies that recognize and respond to content security measures," the bill adds, will encourage the entertainment industry to supply the "high-quality digital content" that consumers want through the Internet and terrestrial DTV stations.
"I believe the private sector is capable, through marketplace negotiations, of adopting standards that will ensure the secure transmission of copyrighted content on the Internet and over the airwaves," Hollings said in a statement. "But given the pace of private talks so far, the private sector needs a nudge."
The bill would require digital devices such as TVs, cable boxes, and PCs to respond to copying instructions encoded in content.
Acknowledging consumers' interests in making legal copies, the bill proposes that copy-control instructions should preserve "legitimate consumer expectations regarding use of digital content in the home." The bill also stipulates that the technology must not prevent consumers from "making a personal copy for lawful use in the home" of over-air broadcasts, premium and non-premium cable channels, or premium and non-premium satellite channels, excluding pay-per-view channels.
The bill also would require copy-protection technology to control digital content even after it has been converted to analog and then back to digital. "When protected digital content is converted to analog for such consumers," the bill states, "it is no longer protected and is subject to conversion into unprotected digital form that can in turn be copied or redistributed illegally."
In its objections, HRRC complained the bill doesn't define its security goals, nor does it guide the FCC on how to determine whether an inter-industry consensus conforms to the bill's mandates. As a result, the HRCC said, the bill "represents a particularly dangerous delegation of broad, unfettered regulatory authority, which could have severe, adverse long-term consequences for American consumers."
On top of that, it's unclear whether the bill "is intended to apply solely to consumer electronics and computer products that deal with video entertainment or also to all products that can handle music, computer programs, games, and data as well." The limited security exemptions described in the bill "are defined only in terms of video entertainment," the HRRC noted.
The bill, said HRRC chairman and CEA president Gary Shapiro, "appears to recognize only a right to make a single personal copy, and then only of certain defined television programs, not music." That would restrict a consumer's only copy to the device, preventing consumers from distributing it to other rooms in the house via removable media (but not via a home network).
HRRC also said it's concerned that the FCC might mandate "selectable output control" and down-resolution of HDTV pictures "to limit consumer viewing as well as recording."
For its part, the Recording Industry Association of America lauded the bill, welcoming a mandated solution. RIAA president Hillary Rosen said the bill's authors "sent a wake-up call to the information technology and consumer electronics industries that the time has come to achieve a voluntary marketplace solution to the growing threat of online piracy."
All movie studios but Warner Brothers also backed the bill.