Copy Protection: Little Consensus


A group of computer makers, consumer-electronics manufacturers and media content owners have issued a long-awaited report on a copyright protection framework for digital media, but the parties still have plenty of disagreements on how to prevent a Napster-like flood of illegal copies of video programming.

The report by the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG) found consensus among its members on a "broadcast flag" for digital television content - namely, the flag described by the Advanced Systems Television Committee (ATSC) in its Standard A/65A. The idea is to strike a balance that allows "fair use," such as recording programs for later viewing in the home, while preventing illegal sale or sharing of media via the Internet or other means.

A "parallel group" of the BPDG will continue to hammer out details of the flag's scope and implementation, but several participants said that Congress or the Federal Communications Commission will eventually have to intervene.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, which favors tight copyright controls, praised the group for reaching some consensus. "It confirms that it is possible for a disparate group of people to come together in a good-faith discussion," he said.

Some computer and consumer-electronics groups, however, attacked the group's report.

"If the BPDG proposal succeeds, ordinary people will not be able to cut and paste 'protected' sections of digital newscasts or other programming for their own use," the Washington, D.C.-based Computer and Communications Industry Association said in a statement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said that the BPDG sought the appearance of consensus and downplayed disagreements. "Hollywood studios are demanding that the consumer electronics industry redesign digital televisions," said EFF Staff Technologist Seth Schoen.

The National Association of Broadcasters was noncommittal. "We are watching the talks very closely and getting regular updates with our interest being in getting this resolved as quickly as possible," said spokesman Dennis Wharton.