Copyright campaign

Valenti makes universal digital encryption a priority

WASHINGTON — Say hello to Operation Shoe Leather, an intense lobbying campaign being waged by Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti in the latest installment of the copyright wars.

Specifically, Valenti has been walking the halls of Congress, educating lawmakers about the perils of piracy in the digital age. He also has been meeting with tech giants, such as Intel and Microsoft, urging them to agree to a uniform encryption system that would stop pirates from beaming movies over the Internet.

“The time has come to sit down together and work out a platform of standards,” Valenti told Daily Variety.

Otherwise, Capitol Hill could intervene and force a solution, Valenti said.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), chair of the influential Senate Commerce Committee, has drafted legislation that would do exactly that, unless the private sector comes up with a voluntary plan. The solon had planned to hold a hearing on the bill last week, but canceled the session in light of the anthrax threat.

Walt Disney topper Michael Eisner and News Corp. topper Peter Chernin were both slated to testify at the hearing. Eisner has argued vigorously that content companies won’t want to make their libraries available to digital TV operators if there is no technology in place to stop programming from being hooked up to the Internet.

For their part, congressional pols are putting increasing pressure on the entertainment and media biz to make the transition to digital TV a reality, and not just a pipe dream. One of the issues standing in the way of the transition is copy protection.

Valenti said he will hold another series of meetings with tech industry leaders in the coming weeks. His goal is to reach an agreement whereby there would be a universal encryption — or watermarking — technology that would allow TV sets, tuners and other equipment to interact with each other.

The lobbying campaign is one of Valenti’s top priorities, even as normal Washington business remains disrupted in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Valenti’s also preparing to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the movie ratings system, which falls Thursday. He said survey after survey proves that the vast majority of parents relay on the familiar ratings.

Last year at this time, Valenti and the ratings system were engulfed in controversy, due to a scathing government report charging the entertainment biz with marketing violent, R-rated movies to kids. The FTC is expected to deliver a much kinder followup report within the next month.

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