WASHINGTON — Staking a countervailing claim from competitor Disney, AOL Time Warner topper Richard Parsons told Senate solons on Thursday it would be wrong for Washington to force the tech industry to develop a single, universal standard that will protects pics from Internet piracy.
Parsons told the Senate Judiciary Committee it’s far more preferable for the entertainment and tech sectors to figure out a solution on their own. He said Capitol Hill may indeed need to intervene at some point but should use a “scalpel vs. a broad sword.”
At issue are technologies that will define how programming is protected with the advent of digital TV and ever-increasing Internet speed. Capitol Hill is growing increasingly concerned that as long as Hollywood isn’t willing to open up its libraries, the digital TV transition will remain stalled.
The main sticking point arises over how to stop Internet users from file-swapping pirated movies. MPAA chief Jack Valenti and some of the member studios, including Disney, have tossed around the idea of fingerprint technology placed in computers and digital TV equipment that can stop pirated movies from being downloaded.
But Parsons and Intel prexy-CEO Craig Barrett, also testifying Thursday, said no such technological solution exists.
“No single silver bullet — technical, legal, legislative or business — can provide a solution to this thorny form of privacy,” Parsons said. “The active cooperation and committed participation of all industry sectors — content, consumer electronics, computer and service providers — will be necessary to develop a range of solutions.”
Parsons and Barrett announced they will soon release a joint statement of principles regarding copy protection.
Eisner’s broadside reverberates
Thursday’s hearing came exactly two weeks after the Senate Commerce Committee — revved up by the testimony of Disney’s Michael Eisner — blasted the country’s top computer makers for refusing to sit down with Hollywood.
Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), commerce committee chair, said he wasn’t afraid of introducing legislation giving the tech biz one year to come up with an answer. Otherwise, the U.S. Commerce Dept. would step in and take over. Measure, which Hollings is still planning to file, is heavily backed by Disney and Fox.
But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate’s judiciary committee, said such legislation would be a “disaster” and that Congress won’t pass anything resembling it this year. He also took a shot at studios seeking government intervention, saying it was “wrong-headed.”
“I’m offended by the arrogance of Hollywood, when I pay $8 to go the theater with soundproofing made of tissue paper and screens smaller than my TV at home,” Leahy said.
Helpful to techies
While Hollings’ hearing on Feb. 28 was clearly stacked in favor of Disney and other content providers, Thursday’s hearing before Leahy was weighted more in favor of the tech side.
The heated debate over copy protection is proving a delicate balancing act for Valenti, who reps Warner Bros., Disney and the other five majors. Warner Bros. and parent company AOL TW have enormous Internet interests.
Valenti, who was not invited to testify at Thursday’s hearing but was in the audience, is in support of Washington stepping in should the tech biz refuse a seat at the negotiating table.
Valenti traveled to Silicon Valley in September to meet with top computer execs but later complained that invitations to sit down for a second session were disregarded.
Generally speaking, the tech sector and Hollywood are coming closer to agreeing on copy-protection technology that will stop digital, over-the-air broadcasts from being hooked up to the Internet. This marks a major victory for Disney.
Leahy asked both Hollywood and the tech industry to submit bimonthly status reports and instructed that the judiciary committee has set up a special Web site where the various materials submitted will be displayed.