Tech giants: No government copy-control mandates

A coalition of technology company heavyweights and consumer groups have joined the chorus of voices calling for the U.S. government to stay away from mandating anti-copying schemes on computers.

The Alliance for Digital Progress (ADP), a lobbying group made of 27 technology companies, consumer groups and think tanks, launched Thursday in response to calls from the Motion Picture Association of America for copy protection measures from the U.S. Congress. Among the members of ADP are technology companies Microsoft, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Apple Computer; and consumer groups Consumer Alert, DigitalConsumer.org, and 60 Plus Association.

Frederick McClure, president of the fledgling group, said the ADP will fight government copy-protection mandates, but he endorsed private-sector methods of solving what he called a "problem with digital piracy."

"We oppose efforts by Hollywood to use the government to design anti-copying technology and require all digital devices to be built using that technology," said McClure, a former legislative advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. "But make no mistake, the organizations here today also are committed to protecting digital content."

On Jan. 14, the Recording Industry of America joined two major technology associations in also calling for Congress to stay away from copy-protection mandates.

The Business Software Alliance and the Computer Systems Policy Project, which joined the RIAA last week, are also part of the Alliance for Digital Progress, although the RIAA is not.

While McClure didn't mention it by name, it was clear his coalition would target any re-introduction of Sen. Fritz Hollings' Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, which mandated copy-control technology on all digital devices. At least one press release in the ADP packet, from senior citizens group 60 Plus Association, focused on the Hollings bill, which went nowhere during the 2002 session of Congress. The association called the South Carolina Democrat's bill "a prime example of government reach out of control."

The MPAA supported the Hollings bill and continues to say that government solutions to file-trading over the Internet may be needed. Neither Hollings' office nor the MPAA had an immediate comment on the ADP announcement.

"It is clear to us there is no easy answer, there is no one-size-fits-all solution," McClure said. "Yet, that is exactly what Hollywood is asking Congress to do. They're asking lawmakers to design a technology solution to the problem, and then force companies to use that technology in every one of their products."

McClure argued that Hollywood doesn't need help from the government. He presented a chart showing the U.S. motion picture industry's revenues rising each year since 1997.

He also quoted a nationwide poll conducted by The Mellman Group and Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates Inc. Jan. 17 to 19, saying 72 percent of U.S. residents believe the best way to address digital piracy is through the private sector. The survey, of 1,000 U.S. adults, has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

McClure argued that private companies could create better copy protection than the government, and he used the example of the DVD as a quickly growing product that came from consumer demand and partnerships between the technology and entertainment industries.

"It's the quick-fix legislative, regulatory mandate in the mode of replacing marketplace solutions that we worry about," he said. "Let the government do the designing, do the implementing, and I guarantee it'll cost more and do less."

ADP, which launched a Web site at alliancefordigitalprogress.org Thursday, doesn't have a position on the digital broadcast flag being considered by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, because the anti-copying code for television signals sprang from private-industry discussions between the television industry and TV makers, McClure said. ADP has no plans to lobby for or against legislation related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, McClure said. "We are not about the scope of copyright law," he said.

McClure declined to disclose a budget for ADP, which members have talked about forming since the fall of 2002, but he said the group continues to recruit more members and will be active on Capitol Hill.

"Take it from me, we'll do whatever is necessary to fulfill the mission that is espoused by the members of our organization," he said. "We're going to pan out and go to Capitol Hill, and we're going to educate the administration. You will see us everywhere."

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