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Hollywood Demands Could Cripple Technology

Movie studios are pushing for laws that could set back consumer technologies, says a panel of technology experts.

InformationWeek Staff

October 15, 2002

2 Min Read

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Congress would be "putting the dinosaurs in charge of evolution" if Hollywood succeeds in obtaining a federal law that would restrict consumer use of digital video and music, a civil liberties attorney told an Associated Press conference.

Legislation introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., would require consumer electronics makers to equip devices with a built-in "copyright chip" that would enforce a government-approved encryption scheme.

"The content industry is saying, 'We need to be able to tell the technology industry what they can and cannot build,'" Fred von Lohmann said Monday during a panel discussion on protecting intellectual property in the digital age. "That's what the fight is all about."

Von Lohmann said some digital video recorders, digital music players, and newer DVD and CD formats already on the market feature built-in copy-protection that aims to thwart consumers' freedoms to copy and share their music and video.

If Hollywood can legally compel technology companies to lock copy-protection into consumer devices, von Lohmann said, consumers won't be the only ones hurt.

The restrictions also will stifle innovation and damage the economy, said the attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His clients include online music-swapping companies that have been sued by the recording industry.

Chris Cookson, Warner Bros.' chief technology officer, insisted that proposed restrictions aren't aimed at blocking consumers' personal uses of music and video, but to prevent piraters from distributing it over the Internet.

With digital broadcast technology advancing quickly, technology and entertainment companies haven't been able to agree on even the most rudimentary policies.

Hollywood wants to add a "digital flag," or identifier, to coming digital television broadcasts, that would hamper copying. But Intel Corp., Philips Electronics NV and other hardware companies have balked at building anti-copying measures into their devices.

In a separate discussion at the two-day conference, futurist author Howard Rheingold said powerful mobile computer technologies were enabling the quick organization of "smart mobs" of like-minded people--for good and bad.

Rheingold said text messaging via cell phone played a key role in organizing mass demonstrations that led to the January 2001 ouster of Philippine president Joseph Estrada. In the future, more pervasive uses could organize pro-democracy rallies or criminal or terrorist movements, said Rheingold, whose book "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution" is being published this month.

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