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Senators talk tough on digital piracy

Sen. Fritz Hollings tells electronics companies and copyright holders at a hearing that if they can't agree on a solution to digital piracy, the government will.

Sen. Fritz Hollings told electronics companies and copyright holders Thursday that if they can't agree on a solution to digital piracy, the government will.

At a hearing over a proposed bill that could require security technology on computers and other digital devices, the Senate Commerce Committee chairman gave technology and media companies a deadline for working out their differences.

Hollings gave media and technology companies 12 to 18 months to come up with their own solution before federal agencies set a standard, according to Reuters.

"Almost no legal high-quality content (is) available on the Internet" because companies can't agree on one open standard for providing anti-copying features, Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, said in his statement to the committee.

Hollings and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, are co-sponsoring a bill that could require computer and device makers to install a government-approved anti-copying technology intended to thwart piracy of digital works.

The proposed Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA) would prohibit people from removing or altering such technology. The bill would also make it illegal for someone to make a copyrighted work publicly available after its protections have been removed or altered.

"When Congress sits idly by in the face of these activities, we essentially sanction the Internet as a haven for thievery," Hollings said. "America's creative artists deserve protection."

Media giants such as Walt Disney and News Corp. have agreed. The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents film studios from AOL Time Warner, Sony and others, also stressed the need for legislation Thursday.

Jack Valenti, chief executive of the trade group, called for additional regulations that would prevent people from illegally distributing TV programs via the Internet.

"If such programs are redistributed on the Net while they are still on the network, it shrinks and decays the earning power of that program," Valenti said in his statement to the committee. "The truth is, if you cannot protect what you own, you don't own anything."

But some technology companies and consumer advocates have opposed the bill, saying they fear it would instigate too much government regulation and oversight.

"Copy protection must be effective, particularly in addressing the core problem of unlawful Internet retransmission," said James Meyer, a special adviser to Thomson Multimedia and a former executive of the company. "But it must permit consumers to continue to make recordings for their personal use within their homes just as they have come to expect in the analog world since the advent of the VCR."

Representatives from Intel, Cisco Systems and Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America also were among those who testified.

Reuters contributed to this report.