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Music, Tech Groups OK Copyright Plans

The leading trade associations for the music and technology industries, which have been at loggerheads over consumers downloading songs on the Internet, have negotiated a compromise they contend will protect copyrights on movies and music without new government involvement.

Lobbyists for some of the nation’s largest technology companies will argue under the new agreement against efforts in Congress to amend U.S. laws to broaden the rights of consumers, such as explicitly permitting viewers to make backup copies of DVDs for personal use or copy songs onto handheld listening devices.

“How companies satisfy consumer expectations is a business decision that should be driven by the dynamics of the marketplace and should not be legislated and regulated,” the agreement said, according to one person who read parts of it to The Associated Press.

These companies, including Microsoft Corp., IBM, Intel Corp. and Dell Computer Corp., also will announce support for aggressive enforcement against digital pirates.

In exchange, the Recording Industry Association of America will argue against government requirements to build locking controls into future generations of entertainment devices to make it more difficult for consumers to share music and movies. Technology companies have complained that the controls are too expensive and complex.

The agreement, expected to be announced Tuesday in Washington, attempts to head off government intervention in the rising debate over what consumers can do with copyrighted material they have purchased. The battle over copyrights, pitting Hollywood against Silicon Valley, has emerged as a central policy question for this Congress.

The agreement was negotiated among the RIAA, the Business Software Alliance and the Computer Systems Policy Project. The software alliance’s members include Microsoft, Apple Computer Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc.; the policy project is made up of chief executives from IBM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.

Officials with those organizations declined to discuss the agreement Monday in any detail, saying only that they had achieved “landmark consensus.” Industry executives and others familiar with the agreement described its provisions on condition of anonymity for the AP.

The agreement politically isolates the powerful Motion Picture Association of America, which was noticeably absent from the deal’s participants. The MPAA has aggressively supported new government requirements for built-in locking controls on new devices, such as DVD recorders. A spokesman for the group declined to comment.

The agreement could affect a proposal by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., that would prohibit the manufacture or distribution of “digital media devices” – such as handheld music players – unless they include government-approved copy restriction technology. His bill’s passage has been in doubt since the 2002 election, because Republican John McCain of Arizona replaced Hollings as chairman of the Commerce Committee when the GOP won the majority in the Senate.

The agreement also could affect fledgling efforts such as those by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Rick Boucher, R-Va., to further define consumers’ rights under U.S. laws affecting copyrights. Lofgren, for example, wants it made clear that consumers would be allowed to resell or give away music or movies they purchase, and would be protected if they deliberately broke anti-piracy controls that interfere with these rights.

Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., praised the agreement for helping to overcome what he said was the “growing rift” between the music and technology industries.

“I hope the rest of the creative and technological communities get on board with a unifying message and… we can tone down the divisive rhetoric that has otherwise predominated many copyright and technology debates,” Berman said in a statement.

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