Valenti talks piracy prevention

Studios want assurances for digital TV

WASHINGTON — Marking his first business trip since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti is scheduled to meet Thursday with tech execs in Silicon Valley to discuss the touchy subject of protecting Hollywood pics from digital piracy.

Pressure is mounting for the private sector to offer up a mutually agreed-upon technology that would give studios some control when it comes to pics aired on digital TV.

Specifically, Fox and the Mouse House want assurances that digital TV can’t be hooked up and transmitted over the Internet. Otherwise, they don’t want to make their libraries available to broadcasters and cablers, who in turn say they can’t make the transition to digital if they have no access to high-quality programming.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-N.C.), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, has drafted legislation that would give the government authority to step in and solve the problem if the various parties –including studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, computer makers, broadcasters and cablers — don’t make progress on their own.

When meeting with top technology execs in Northern California, Valenti is expected to lay out concerns studios have regarding the advent of digital TV.

Even after last week’s terrorist attacks, some industryites are predicting that Hollings could still hold a hearing on the proposed legislation next month, with Mouse House topper Michael Eisner expected to testify.

As currently drafted, the Hollings bill would give private companies a year to hammer out an agreement regarding copy-protection technology. If there are positive signals coming out of the talks, the private sector could ask for a six-month extension.

Otherwise, the government would step in and come up with a copy-protection standard.

The technology at the heart of the debate would be included in all sorts of devices, allowing digital televisions, digital set-top boxes and computers to communicate with each other.

In a critical concession to consumer electronics manufacturers, the proposed legislation would allow consumers to make a personal copy of broadcast and basic cable programming.

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