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Senate in a digital divide

Mar 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Two Senate panels are moving in opposite directions to protect digital content-including high-definition television programming and movies-from Internet piracy.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., has been floating an early draft of legislation he will soon introduce that gives the entertainment and high-technology industries 18 months to develop copyright protection standards-or have the government do it for them.
But the equally powerful Senate Judiciary Committee wants the industries to resolve their concerns without government involvement.
“Frankly, I think it would be a disaster to have legislation go through now,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said at a hearing last week. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on Judiciary, agreed, saying legislation is a last resort.
The Hollings draft, which is subject to change, would require the secretary of commerce to impose standards for digital TVs, computers and other electronic devices if industry players reach an impasse. “There’s no guarantee that a government agency will select the best technology to become the industry standard,” Sen. Leahy cautioned.
He said a bill is unlikely to pass this year because there are too many conflicting views about what to do. Digital content is particularly susceptible to piracy because each copy is as picture-perfect as the original, and illegal replications can be easily distributed on the Internet.
Richard Parsons, CEO-designate at AOL Time Warner, said Internet copyright violations are a form of shoplifting. “We’re opening the door to economic anarchy that can undermine our markets,” he said.
Nevertheless, he wants to preserve fair use rights for consumers and wants the government to play a “discreet” role in crafting standards.