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Dispute gives preview of DVD problems

A copyright battle may delay technology that could bring full-length movies to PCs.

A technology that many systems vendors were awaiting to deliver full-length movies to your home computer has gotten enmeshed in a political standoff that might delay its entrance to the market.

Industry leaders from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the consumer electronics industry have started squabbling over standards for DVD, or Digital Video-Discs, a kind of next-step CD-ROM capable of storing feature-length movies that could be viewed from TVs or PCs.

Computer industry leaders such as Microsoft's Bill Gates have been predicting that DVD discs would be out in time for Christmas, but a fight over who should regulate copyright protection for material distributed on DVD discs now threatens to upset the the timetable. Movie studios are nervous that once DVD takes off, users will buy a DVD disc, download it to their computer, and then make copies for all their friends, a problem comparable to what the music industry faces with records and tape casettes.

To try to come up with a solution, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association (CEMA) have collaborated to submit a draft of hardware and software standards for protecting those copyrights. If it goes before Congress for approval, as the MPAA and CEMA would like, then all DVD manufacturers would have to build their devices to support the standards.

The problem is that the PC industry was never consulted, according to the Information Technology Industry (ITI) Council, a trade organization that represents companies such as Apple Computer, Compaq Computer, Intel, Kodak, Motorola, and Silicon Graphics.

"Their solution works fine for the consumer-electronic standalone product but technologically doesn't work at all for computers," said an ITI spokeswoman.

The three industry groups are slated to meet in Washington on Monday to hammer out their differences; the ITI will present an alternative proposal, and the MPAA and CEMA have agreed to hold back their legislation in the meantime.

The ITI generally opposes all government regulation of PC standards. The ITI spokeswoman, however, acknowledges that the creation of DVD does call for some technical resolution to the copyright question. "We're very sympathetic to their problems. Copyright is essential or else [DVD] will never get off the ground."

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