RIAA, IT groups agree on digital rights

The music and technology industries, which have often clashed in the past over how to limit the sharing of songs over the internet, have agreed on at least one thing: the US Congress should keep its hands off the issue.

          The music and technology industries, which have often clashed in the past over how to limit the sharing of songs over the internet, have agreed on at least one thing: the US Congress should keep its hands off the issue.

          The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP) announced their agreement on seven broad digital content policy principles yesterday.

          The thrust of the agreement, according to Robert Holleyman, president and chief executive officer of the BSA, is to state the groups' "strong opposition to attempts to insert the government in the technology development process".

          "This is a landmark agreement because it shows that a broad cross-section of companies have come to the conclusion that government-mandated technology protection measures simply won't work," says Holleyman, whose alliance represents major software vendors including Microsoft, Adobe Systems and IBM.

          "The tech industry is not the problem, but part of the solution," he says.

          The agreement seems to oppose legislation from the likes of Senator Fritz Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, whose Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act calls for embedding copy protection technology in all high-tech devices. Hollings introduced that bill last year, but it made little progress before Congress' winter break.

          While the three groups don't want mandated copy protection on devices, they called on Congress to enforce laws against those who infringe copyright laws. The groups plan to bring industry leaders together to hash out more concrete policies for combatting digital piracy, says Ken Kay, executive director of CSPP, which represents companies including Dell, Intel and Hewlett-Packard.

          Agreement between the three groups is important because it addresses the question from Congress, "why can't you work this out," Holleyman says. In the past, the recording and motion picture industries have called on the IT industry to do more to protect against file sharing.

          Notably absent from the agreement is the Motion Picture Association of America and any consumer groups. Hilary Rosen, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the groups would be happy to receive input from consumers and other industry groups.

          "We're in the marketplace, and in the marketplace, consumers drive," she says.

          The agreement calls for technology vendors and record companies to support technical measures to limit the illegal copying of digital content, so long as those measures don't destroy individual internet users' data or equipment and don't violate privacy rights. The agreement doesn't mention the "fair use" rights of individuals to make copies of digital music files for personal use, but Rosen argues that it "protects consumer rights to use music as they want."

          The agreement isn't intended to oppose any specific proposed legislation, but Rosen says she believes that a "fair use" rights bill introduced last week by Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, would conflict with language in the agreement. Boucher's bill goes too far in permitting any technology that has a legitimate use beyond illegal copying, according to Rosen.

          The BSA's Holleyman says members of his group support the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which Boucher's bill would update.

          "For now, we believe it's working," he says of the DMCA.

          The agreement, more a broad statement of principles than a list of specific policy recommendations, also calls for the three groups to work together to educate the public about file sharing and to meet the expectations of consumers in offering legal music downloads on the internet.

          "Consumers are eager to enjoy new music and new technologies, and record and technology companies are already addressing those needs," the groups say in the agreement.

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