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Report shines spotlight on digital piracy

At a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, executives from the music, film and software industries will voice concerns about growing levels of digital piracy.

Executives from the music, film and software industries will take the stage in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to voice concerns about what they say are growing levels of digital piracy.

The hearing, held by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, will mark the release of a report calling for improved anti-piracy efforts overseas and in the United States. Commissioned by committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., the report bemoans lackluster intellectual property protections around the world, saying piracy could deeply harm the U.S. economy.

"Only by being vigilant in investigating and prosecuting those who steal intellectual property will we be successful in continuing to nurture the development of the music, software and entertainment industries, which employ so many people around the world," Biden writes in a draft of the report, scheduled to be released Tuesday. "As businesses struggle to adapt to the new economic landscape, we need to ensure that government authorities throughout the world, and at home, are prepared to address the new challenges before them."

The hearing comes as controversy is growing over copyright holders' attempts to strengthen their legal and technology guards against unauthorized copying of their work. Several lawmakers have already taken sides in this debate.

Since the middle of last year, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., has been floating legislative language that would require consumer-electronics and technology companies to include hardware-based anti-piracy safeguards in DVD players, CD players, PCs and other digital devices. Originally backed by Walt Disney, the language so far has failed to win the full support of the film industry and has drawn sharp criticism from technology companies.

Standards groups backed by the film and consumer-electronics industries are working on advanced safeguards to block DVD copying and the trading of broadcast programs online. Jack Valenti, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, has said he would support legislation mandating copy protection only after the various groups agreed on a standard.

On the other side, Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., has taken a publicly skeptical look at the record industry's attempts to add copy protection to ordinary music CDs. He's also pushing for change in controversial parts of copyright law that automatically make it illegal to break through anti-piracy technologies.

Biden's report, at least in draft form, proposes that U.S. trade officials push for stronger intellectual property enforcement rules when negotiating with foreign nations. U.S. law-enforcement agencies and regulators could share their expertise and resources with foreign governments on this issue, he says. Foreign governments should be encouraged to root out software piracy inside their own agencies, Biden notes.

Unlike several previous hearings that have dealt with issues such as Napster or online music, Biden's discussion will focus on hearing the voices of copyright owners, law-enforcement officials and regulators.

The MPAA's Valenti, Recording Industry Association of America President Hilary Rosen, and Microsoft Group Vice President Jeff Raikes will testify at Biden's hearing Tuesday. Those three will be joined by several state and federal law enforcement and trade officials.