WASHINGTON — Soothing Hollywood studio moguls haunted by Napster nightmares, Capitol Hill solons introduced legislation Thursday that would force Silicon Valley giants to load down their ware with technology to stop the downloading of pirated pics from Internet file-sharing sites.
Whether or not the measure passes, it marks a milestone, representing a government threat to intervene if the tech sector doesn’t come up with a solution within one year of the bill’s passage. It’s also likely to spark a national debate on whether Hollywood should be allowed to impose its will on individual computers and digital TV sets.
Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Jack Valenti announced his immediate support of the legislation, even though member studio Warner Bros. and its parent company, AOL Time Warner, said they are against the notion of having Washington step in. The conglom said it supports the spirit of the bill in terms of putting an end to piracy.
The other six majors are behind Valenti, who stressed that a broad government mandate isn’t the preferred outcome.
“I’m saying that the best conclusion to these questions is for the IT community, the consumer electronics people and the copyright industries to sit down in good faith and trustworthy negotiations, so that we can come to a consensus and then determine what sort of limited, government actions are needed,” Valenti said.
A cadre of influential pols are pushing the bill, including author Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and co-sponsors Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Hollings, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the tech biz hasn’t been willing to negotiate in good faith, a point repeatedly argued by Valenti over the last year, as well as by top Disney and Fox execs. The pol said the digital TV transition will never get off the ground if the piracy problem isn’t addressed, since Hollywood won’t be willing to open up its libraries.
“I believe the private sector is capable — through private marketplace negotiations — of adopting standards that will ensure the secure transmission of copyrighted content on the Internet and over the airwaves,” Hollings. “But given the pace of private talks so far, the private sector needs a nudge.”
The tech sector said Hollings’ legislation was misguided, reiterating that there is no one technological solution to curb the swapping of pirated pics on Internet peer-to-peer sites.
“We don’t think this will help consumers use technology to enjoy movies or other content more. In fact, if it were enacted, it could stand in the way of consumers enjoying the benefits of innovation by having the government make decisions that are best left to the marketplace,” Information Technology Industry Council prexy Rhett Dawson said.
Others on Capitol Hill, including Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Ver.), agree and are against Hollings’ legislative effort to force a resolution.
At a hearing earlier this month, Leahy told AOL TW incoming topper Richard Parsons and Intel topper Craig Barrett that any such legislation was “dead on arrival.” During their testimony, Parsons and Barrett both said the government should largely stay out of the mix, because too large of a handprint by Washington could stifle innovation.
At another congressional hearing two weeks earlier, Mouse House topper Michael Eisner berated Intel and other tech industry giants for actually encouraging consumers to download pirated materials, saying it was the “killer” app. Introduction of Hollings’ legislation was a major coup for Disney and Fox, which have been lobbying hard on the subject.
“Most importantly, the bill provides the needed discipline of a deadline for the conclusion of industry negotiations,” Eisner said Thursday in a statement.
Both Eisner and Valenti made a point of thanking Leahy and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for asking that all sides keep the judiciary committee up-to-date on negotiations between the various industries.
“That kind of oversight will be beneficial and will assist all parties in understanding where government action may be warranted,” Valenti said.
Under the terms laid out by Hollings, the FCC and the U.S. Copyright Registrar would be directed to come up with a technological standard if the private sector doesn’t present a solution within a year.
The legislation proposed by Hollings pointedly preserves the right of consumers to copy programming for home use.