Record Labels, Techs Call Truce in Copyright Fight

By | January 15, 2003 at 12:00 AM

The recording industry and several high-tech groups battling over copyright laws declared a tentative truce on Tuesday and said they would try to hash out rules to govern how to protect digital movies and music from widespread bootlegging.

The two sides hope to avoid a big lobbying battle this year in Congress over whether to enhance digital copyright protection or preserve the rights of users to make copies. They said they will try to settle their differences and devise rules to govern how movies and music may be used, instead of looking to Congress or the Federal Communications Commission.

But observers say a legislative fight is likely as movie studios and consumer-electronics makers, two big players who have staked out opposing positions, have not signed the deal.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the five big record labels, said it would work cooperatively with the Business Software Alliance and the Computer Systems Policy Project, two trade groups whose members include IBM, Dell Computer Corp., and Intel Corp.

“It represents a sea change in the debate over digitial content issues,” said Ken Kay, executive director of the Computer Systems Policy Project. “Private-sector developments, not heavy-handed government intrusion, are the best way to protect content consumer choice and innovation.”

But several key players in the debate are absent from the agreement, including the Motion Picture Association of America, consumer electronics makers and major consumer groups.

At issue are simmering disputes pitting content providers like record companies and movie studios against the technology industry.

The record companies and Hollywood have lobbied Congress for new ways to stop illegal piracy of their material. One bill introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, would require Hollywood and Silicon Valley to devise technology that would prevent computers and other digital-media devices from playing back files that did not contain an industry stamp of approval.

Computer industry groups, meanwhile, have been pushing for Congress to bolster “fair use” rights, ensuring consumers retain rights to make limited copies of books, movies and music for personal or academic use.

The three trade groups said they would promote more consumer education about digital copying and more private and government enforcement against copyright infringers.

They also agreed that technical measures dictated by the government “are not practical.”

But not everyone agrees.

Disney Corp.,, for example, called in a statement on Tuesday for the government to help set content-protection standards that will be observed by everybody.

“The private sector cannot solve this problem by itself,” said Preston Padden, a Disney lobbyist.

The new alliance drew praise from two Democratic lawmakers who have played a large role in digital copyright issues, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy and Michigan Rep. John Conyers.

But Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, who has introduced a “fair use” bill opposed by many media companies, pointed out that the Consumer Electronics Association and other technology companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc.,, Gateway Inc. and Verizon Communications, are not part of the agreement.

“These entities consistently have been in the forefront of promoting fair use rights for digital consumers,” Boucher said in a statement.

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