Studios are offering expressions of support

Hollywood studios are offering expressions of support for the FCC’s roadmap for achieving near-universal, high-speed Internet coverage across the country, even if the commission’s newly unveiled plan includes few specific details on a way forward in combating piracy.

In fact, the National Broadband Plan, officially unveiled at an FCC hearing on Tuesday, largely shies away from a debate in which studios are pushing for greater flexiblity to protect copyrighted works like movies and TV shows while some consumer and advocacy groups are expressing fears of giving media congloms and Internet providers too much control.

The FCC is expected to address such concerns in more detail in separate proceedings over so called “net neutrality” rules, intended to ensure that Internet providers don’t give preferential treatment to certain content and sites over others.

The Broadband plan states that the Internet’s value “as a platform for content … depends on creators’ incentives to create and disseminate their works online, which are in turn at least partly dependent on copyright protection. The Internet must be a safe, trusted platform for lawful distribution of content. At the same time, copyright protection efforts must not stifle innovation; overburden lawful uses of copyrighted works; or compromise consumers’ property rights.”

Bob Pisano, interim CEO of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said in a statement his group applauds “the FCC for issuing a plan designed to connect all Americans to high-speed Internet, while recognizing copyrighted content must be protected online if broadband is to thrive as an engine of growth and innovation in the 21st century.”

Mitch Bainwol, the chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said it looks “forward to working with the commission and other policymakers to ensure that the broadband plan fulfills its potential — to respect the rights of creators and the jobs they provide, and to stimulate new jobs by enabling innovative business models that will deliver music to audiences in exciting new ways.”

Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer echoed the comments, praising the plan for its “bold vision to spur investment and innovation in the nation’s broadband networks.”

In comments on the broadband plan submitted to the FCC last fall, the MPAA asked the commission to encourage Internet providers to work with the creative community to curb piracy. The MPAA has cited such measures as watermarking and filtering, but it also has expressed support for a “graduated response,” also known as “three strikes,” in which Internet providers would halt service, or even be ordered to stop services, to customers after repeated cases of infringement.

Nevertheless, the MPAA has been explicit in pressing for flexibility in developing technological approaches to fight infringement, and to make sure that the government’s policies do not “foreclose any particular anti-theft approach.”

The MPAA even cited policies in other countries, like a version of a “three-strikes” anti-piracy law in France, to show how concrete steps were being taken elsewhere and “why it is all the more important for the United States to get it right.”

The broadband plan does call for easing copyright restrictions so more content can be made available for educational use and for the creation of a national digital archive, in which news footage and other video could be accessed online by scholars and students. As an example, the plan cited cases in which teachers wanted to use Beatles lyrics to promote literacy, but faced a $3,000 licensing fee.

Meanwhile, new concerns were expressed on the Broadband plan’s call for broadcasters to give up spectrum as a way to expand wireless access. At the FCC hearing, commissioner Mignon Clyburn said the group needs to more closely study the impact of what such a transition would do to over-the-air TV, particularly to smaller stations with women and minority ownership.

“In my view, we may be doing the country a disservice if our actions left Americans relying on over-the-air television with only the major networks at the expense of smaller stations serving niche audiences who rely on them for their news and information,” she said.

Chairman Julius Genachowski, however, stressed the sense of urgency in putting the plan in place, casting it in patriotic terms of American competitiveness. “If we don’t act we put at risk the promise of America as a land of opportunity,” he said.

The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet will hold a hearing on the plan on March 25. All five FCC commissioners have been invited.

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