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Net anti-piracy debate heads for House

A representative from California says he plans to bring the lower house into the copyright-protection fray with a bill similar to one recently introduced in the Senate.

Days after a controversial copyright-protection bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate, a California legislator has announced plans to follow suit in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who represents a Los Angeles-area district, sent a letter to fellow lawmakers Wednesday asking them to support his own strict anti-piracy legislation, which he plans to introduce later this year.

The legislation would be based on a bill introduced last week by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., which has drawn sharp criticism from across the technology industry. That bill would force computer and consumer-electronics companies to include anti-piracy technology in every "digital media device."

"Our nation's creative enterprises have been hesitant to offer their products over the Internet out of fear of piracy," Schiff wrote in his letter soliciting support for the idea. " I believe this (bill) is a necessary step, and I encourage you to join me in this effort."

A House bill would open a new front for entertainment and technology companies who are battling over how much responsibility device makers should shoulder in the anti-piracy fight. Hollings' bill, which has proved to be a lightning rod for technology industry and consumer criticism, has already drawn opposition from other key senators and is viewed by insiders as unlikely to pass.

But moving the bill into the lower house could give the idea additional wind, as well as provide another platform for media companies to underline the effects of online piracy on their businesses. The movie studios say they lose about $3 billion yearly to offline piracy, while the record industry attributes a 10 percent drop in shipments in 2001 partly to competition from file-swapping services such as Napster and Morpheus.

Hollings' bill, which has been floating around Capital Hill in draft form since late last year, would require technology companies, consumer-electronics manufacturers, consumer groups and the entertainment industry to sit down and figure out a standard way to build anti-piracy protections into such devices as MP3 players, televisions and stereos.

If those groups can't settle on an appropriate technology in one year, the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Copyright Office would step in to mandate a standard, after hearing the views of all the parties involved.