Hollywood heads up antipiracy charge

A lawyer for the MPAA says to expect new bills soon to assail illicit peer-to-peer file trading and curtail the piracy of digital TV broadcasts.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read
WASHINGTON--Hollywood's lobbyists are readying a new legislative push on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, a lawyer for the Motion Picture Association of America said to expect new bills soon to assail illicit peer-to-peer file trading and curtail the piracy of digital TV broadcasts.

Fritz Attaway, the MPAA's senior vice president for government relations, told an intellectual property conference that his group would, with the help of its powerful congressional allies, attempt a three-pronged approach this fall.

Because Congress only has about five work weeks left before it is scheduled to adjourn for the year, the movie studios' effort has limited hopes of success until 2003. But it will highlight Hollywood's legal attempts to permit the intentional disruption of peer-to-peer networks and limit the unauthorized copying and conversion of digital TV signals.

"This is a legislative objective of ours that I know you will be hearing more about really soon," Attaway told more than 100 congressional aides attending a conference organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Institute for Policy Innovation.

Both are free-market groups generally skeptical of government regulation. They convened for the half-day event, featuring speakers from Microsoft, Eli Lilly, and the Association for Competitive Technology, to argue that intellectual property rights should be defended as fiercely as traditional property rights.

"We're here to defend intellectual property," said Jim DeLong, an economist at CEI. "If you want balance, go to another session."

Last month, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said he was writing a bill that would allow aggrieved content owners to launch technological attacks against file-swapping networks where their wares are traded.

"No one in the motion picture industry has any interest in invading your computer or doing anything malicious with your files," said the MPAA's Attaway. "The idea is to make unauthorized file sharing sufficiently inconvenient or at least unsuccessful."

Berman has not introduced his bill yet, but his description says that it will immunize copyright holders from civil and criminal liability who use technological methods such as hacking to "prevent the unauthorized distribution of their copyrighted works via P2P networks."

The MPAA's other two proposals likely will seek to limit piracy by outlawing future components that receive digital TV broadcasts unless they follow anticopying standards. Last week, the Recording Industry Association of America endorsed a similar "broadcast flag" approach for digital radio broadcasts.

The idea is straightforward: Future hardware and software would treat digital television differently if it were designated as copy-protected, preventing people from saving multiple copies or uploading it. Another standard would, in industry jargon, "plug the analog hole" by embedding watermarks in broadcasts and limiting the redistribution of broadcasts with those hidden watermarks.

But because people might not use these new kinds of devices if given a choice, new federal laws likely would be necessary to compel software and hardware manufacturers to abide by the flag or watermark. Senate Commerce Chairman Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., has introduced a related bill that would restrict hardware and software that doesn't adhere to government-approved "standard security technologies."

Attaway said, "To implement the (broadcast) flag, there has to be legislation." The MPAA's Web site echoes the sentiment, saying that "implementation is expected to require a legislative and/or regulatory mandate."

None of the speakers at the conference, including representatives from Intel and Microsoft, attacked the idea.

Susan Mann, a federal affairs manager at Microsoft, said "we applaud" Berman's considered approach. But, Mann said, "we have to look at it very carefully."

Mann said that Microsoft has undertaken aggressive antipiracy efforts by relying on technology instead of the law. "We do that without having asked anyone for legislation to implement those technological protection tools...Piracy is a problem that we view as primarily our own," she said.

Intel attorney Jeffrey Lawrence, who specializes in content protection, reeled off a history of how his company has worked to devise standards for digital rights management.

Lawrence said that Hollings' plan to forcibly implant copy-protection technology in consumer devices has disrupted negotiations between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It's "changed not just the stakes, but an ongoing dialogue that has been going on for many, many years," he said.