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Pressure On to Clear Way for DTV

Entertainment: Congress anxious for Hollywood, Silicon Valley to settle copyright-protection technology issues.

June 12, 2002|EDMUND SANDERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) prodded representatives from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to settle their differences over a copyright-protection technology designed to accelerate the roll-out of digital television.

Tauzin, who has been frustrated by the slow progress of DTV, ordered parties to report back on their progress by July 15. The deadline represents Tauzin's most aggressive step yet to involve the federal government in the private-sector talks between entertainment companies and electronics firms.

"He left upbeat and convinced more than ever that it's still possible to resolve many, if not most, of these issues without resorting to regulation or legislation," said Ken Johnson, spokesman for Tauzin, who chairs the House Commerce Committee.

Representatives of some of the major entertainment and electronics companies welcomed the new deadline.

"Left to their own devices, these industries will probably never get together," said Andrew G. Setos, president of engineering at Fox Group and co-chair of an inter-industry working group, called the Broadcast Protection Discussion Subgroup.

The group was expected to wrap up negotiations earlier this month on a technology known as a "broadcast flag," which would embed a code inside a digital TV signal and prevent copyrighted TV shows from being retransmitted over the Internet. But the final report lacked a consensus on key questions, such as whether consumers should have the rights to make and move personal copies of digital TV programs and how future copyright-protection technologies should be selected and approved.

Entertainment companies have been reluctant to release digital TV programs on free, over-the-air television because they fear programs will be copied and swapped over the Internet, similar to the way digital music is traded online. Electronics firms worry that the public may reject new technologies if they are overly restrictive.

During a 2 1/2 hour meeting in Washington, Tauzin told participants to clarify their positions by this Friday on how far they believe copyright protections should extend inside consumers' homes. Most agree, for example, that viewers should be able to transfer a digital TV program from the living room to the bedroom via a home network. But questions remain about whether they should be able to include an excerpt of a digital TV show in an e-mail to a friend or transfer a digital copy over the Internet to their vacation home.

Once a broader consensus is reached, it is expected that Congress will adopt some of the recommendations and weigh in with its own views about consumers' rights.

One participant, Philips Electronics, urged Tauzin to replace the working group--which it complains has been dominated by large entertainment and electronics firms--with a government-sponsored advisory panel. The company remains pessimistic that a consensus will be reached by next month.

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