Industry Leaders Ready Digital Content Copyright Plan

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Washington - Leaders of various technology and entertainment companies told a congressional committee yesterday that they are nearly ready to present a plan that will address how to prevent copyrighted digital broadcasts from being illegally redistributed over the Internet.

At the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Panasonic chief technology officer Paul F. Liao said a report would be issued by May 17.

"It is this congress' burden to help sort out how to rationally protect content in the digital age," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who chairs the subcommittee. But he "truly believe(s) that the best solution is a private sector solution."

Some Congressional intervention might be necessary though, according to Philips Consumer Electronics president Larry Blanford. "Philips calls upon the Congress to reassert itself in this important area," he said. "In its effort to address Internet retransmission, BPDG (the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group) has been taken over by a small group of companies that are pressing a particular approach that would affect all retransmission of content inside the home. This proposal tramples upon the fair use rights of the consumer and introduces unnecessary levels of complexity and costs in consumer devices."

Entertainment companies have held off on making their content available in a high-definition format for fear that it will be copied and redistributed over the Internet. But speaking yesterday at the annual Academy of DTV Pioneers Awards, HDNet's Mark Cuban, who was recognized for launching the high-definition network, said entertainment companies will come through with high-definition programming. "Don't worry about studios warning they won't release digital content due to copyright concerns," Cuban said. "The studios can't have it both ways. On the one hand they're running to Capitol Hill asking for protection because they say `the sky is falling' due to lack of copy protection for their movies. At the same time, they're telling Wall Street that business is looking good and that they're optimistic about future prospects."

Back at the Congressional hearing, Joe Krauss, founder of Excite.com and co-founder of DigitalConsumer.org, a group dedicated to "protecting fair-use rights in the digital world," said consumers' rights were at risk of being weakened. "There's a lot of latent interest in the issue of fair use rights and I think people are very concerned about recent trends," he said. "The average consumer understands that piracy is not a good thing but the average consumer is concerned that the trends are overreaching in the other direction." DigitalConsumer.org has, in its six-week existence, already signed up 35,000 members who are concerned about protecting fair use rights.

"Our members are not teenagers swapping songs on the Internet. They're ordinary, law-abiding citizens who insist that Congress protect their historical fair use rights." Krauss pointed out that there has been no consumer participation in the BPDG and that he believes too much control is in industry hands.

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