EU won't legislate DRM, US lawmakers locked in debate

While European lawmakers face many of the same issues as their U.S. counterparts in developing digital copyright legislation, members of the European Parliament said they will not mandate digital rights management (DRM) specifications, opting instead to let the market develop its own standards.

No such consensus exists in the U.S. Congress, where debate is raging over a proposal by South Carolina Democratic Senator Fritz Hollings that would mandate government specifications to impose DRM technologies on any PC or other digital device. DRM technology is used to ensure that copyright digital works playing on a device cannot be copied without authorization.

The technology industry at large views Hollings' bill as a significant imposition since it would thrust digital copyright enforcement on the shoulders of PC and device makers as well as Internet service providers who supply the networks over which content flows.

"In the U.S. we have the Hollings bill, which tries to impose mandatory DRM (standards) on the industry, unlike the European Parliament which will not mandate specifications," said Sarah Deutsch, vice president and associate general counsel for Verizon Communications Inc. Deutsch spoke during a panel on digital copyright with European Parliament members and other industry representatives sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus here Wednesday. Hollings' bill would "replace an industry-led solution with a government mandate ... at our own expense and liability," Deutsch said.

In June of 2001 the European Parliament, which is the legislative arm of the European Union (E.U.), passed a copyright directive that, much like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the U.S., includes provisions to protect digital works. The E.U.'s 15 member states have until December of this year to enact the directive, said Malcolm Harbour, a parliament member from the U.K.

But DRM was not included in the directive. Instead, the European Commission, the executive arm of the E.U., is holding debates and workshops on DRM with the hope of arriving at industry consensus on how the technology should be implemented, and making different DRM iterations compatible, said Arlene McCarthy, a European Parliament member also from the U.K.

"The idea of the workshops is how to make DRM acceptable," McCarthy said. "There will be no legislation on this, we want the industry to take the lead."

The parliament has held off on legislating DRM because such efforts may not lead to the right specifications, McCarthy said.

Whatever DRM specifications do emerge in Europe will have to allow for consumers' fair use, added Harbour. Fair use is an element of both U.S. and E.U. copyright law that lets consumers duplicate copyright works for their personal use.

In the U.S., fair-use rights must be balanced with the rights of copyright holders who produce content, said panelist Fritz Attaway, senior vice president with industry group the Motion Picture Association of America.

"We need a balance, we can't focus just on private copying (rights) or the interest of the content owners to control their products," he said.

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