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Senate Ponders Analog Hole

6/21/2006 03:05:00 PM Eastern

Washington — A new proposal that would close “the analog hole” on digital video content “is a bad solution in search of a problem,” Consumer Electronics Association president/CEO Gary Shapiro told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

“The content community is aggressively pushing new legislation that would impose new design mandates on our products, and the analog hole mandate is just one of those proposals,” Shapiro said. “This is determined to frustrate consumers from doing what they are supposed to be able to be doing in their home, which is shifting content around.”

Shapiro questioned a proposal endorsed by representatives of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Warner Bros. and the Directors’ Guild of America that would thwart the import of analog content into devices that could then encode that content into digital form without copy-protection limits.

Dan Glickman, MPAA’s chairman, said, “We are embracing digital rights management technology so we can offer consumers more choices at greater varieties of price points. Some people may want to purchase a permanent copy of a movie. Others may only want to watch it once and do it at a lower price.

“To maintain that distinction, we need to provide technical safeguards to ensure that a consumer who opts to take advantage of a time-limited viewing at one price is, in fact, getting the benefit of the sale option. Otherwise the time limited model will naturally migrate toward the sale model.”

Glickman said the industry must prevent the threat of theft through new technologies put on the market.

“The pilfering of films costs our industry an estimated $6.1 billion a year. Non-commercial copying of movies for family and friends, which is a large part of what we are talking about here today, costs our members an estimated $1 billion to $1.5 billion each year.”

However, Shapiro countered that piracy cannot be traced to content delivered through analog connections.

“Where’s the proof of harm? Where’s the need for legislation? Indeed there is no evidence at all that the analog hole is contributing to any motion picture industry problems,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro pointed to the MPAA’s Web site that indicated 90 percent of pirated copies come from handheld camcorders, and an independent AT&T study found that 77 percent of movies on P2P networks were leaked by movie industry insiders.

“These technologies that they are proposing are complex, untested, yet would cripple millions of consumer electronics products and would have huge implications on many non-consumer technologies,” Shapiro said.

Chris Cookson, Warner Bros. technical operations president, said, “Today we are in the middle of [a transition to digital content delivery] where content is delivered to our homes primarily in digital form, and the problem is we mostly still have analog TVs. So the digital content that comes to us in digital form with rights management associated with it has to be descrambled and put into analog form to get to the last 3 feet from the top of the set to the back of the set.”

Cookson said Shapiro’s concerns over the latest content security proposals were based on “misapprehensions, misunderstandings and bad information.”

“We are focusing merely on those devices that [would give] the consumer the ability to digitize analog,” Cookson said. “It will not eliminate my TiVo.”

However, Matt Zinn, TiVo chief piracy officer, said, “We need to identify what we are talking about here. Is it piracy? Is indiscriminate redistribution over the Internet?”

He added that pirates don’t use analog-to-digital conversion to copy content.

“They use digital-to-digital,” he said. “The only people affected by this legislation are ordinary, honest consumers who would have their rights stripped away so that Mr. Cookson would make more money every time you play a show. Basically, Mr. Cookson is trying to remove the ‘l’ from the play button and make it a pay button.”