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DVDs face big hurdles before holidays

The road to market for the next-generation DVD is fraught with copyright obstacles.

If Toshiba, Sony, and other electronics manufacturers get their wish, Christmas stockings will be stuffed with digital video discs, or DVDs, this holiday season. But the road to market for the next-generation CD-ROM is fraught with copyright obstacles.

With more than seven times the storage capacity of compact discs, DVDs are anticipated as a way to deliver movies, games, multimedia titles, and other content to the home market either on PCs that can run the discs or stand-alone DVD players. However, plans for a year-end rollout have been jeopardized by fear that the new technology will spawn an increasing amount of piracy of films, music, and software.

"The challenge of digital media is that it can be copied on a digital-to-digital basis without significant deterioration," said Craig Eggers, director of DVD marketing for Toshiba America.

Envisioning high-quality bootleg movies flooding underground and foreign markets, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association in March decided to seek government regulation of copyright protection regarding digital video recordings. The computer industry's trade organization, the Information Technology Industry Council, which opposes government intervention in industry standards, complained that it wasn't consulted.

The parties then agreed to pull back from Congress until June 3 and enter private negotiations on the technical and legislative fronts. That deadline has since been extended indefinitely.

At a meeting Friday in Washington, the issue on the table was encryptable discs that would prevent users from downloading material onto a computer hard drive. Details were not immediately available, and representatives from the three consortia stressed that no agreement or resolution to adopt encrypted disc technology was expected.

"All of us will meet on Friday then go back and huddle," an ITIC spokeswoman said in an interview before the meeting.

The rollout of the discs has already been pushed back once, but faced with the prospect of different standards for stand-alone players and DVD drives on computers, it's unlikely the stand-alones would ship without a standard that everyone agrees on.

"It makes no sense to have two kinds of DVDs," the ITIC spokeswoman said. "None of use would go forward without the others."

Still, it wouldn't be wise to expect a quick resolution as long as intellectual property is at stake.

"Copyright will always be an issue," said senior analyst Yvette DeBow of Jupiter Communications. "It even stalled DAT [digital audio tape], because the record companies were really against it."